The Trench Art Phenomenon (1914-1980)
Trench Art is usually defined as any decorative object made by soldiers, auxiliary personnel of the army, war prisoners or civilian directly related to an armed conflict or its consequences.
It appeared during Napoleonic Wars and flourished during the First World War. The term Trench Art is also used to describe souvenirs handmade or manufactured in military workshops during World War I, during the interwar period and during the Second World War. The phenomenon continued during the following military conflicts. Sometimes, while on the line, in campaign hospitals, or in prisons, soldiers made true pieces of art from projectiles, cartridge cases, shells, grenades and other pieces of armament, Romanian, as well as other nationalities, on the front, in campus hospitals or in prison, sometimes made true works of art. According to Cristian Dumitru, the oldest and most valuable piece of Trench Art in Romania is the crown of King Carol I, made of the steel of a cannon captured at Plevna in 1877.
The exhibition presents a selection of over 250 pieces, all purchased in Romania, belonging to private collector Cristian Dumitru, many of which made during the First World War, but also on the European fronts, including Romania. The first object in the collection was purchased in 1990 – an ashtray made of a piece of cannon from the World War I and a lighter made from a cartridge case inside it. At present, Cristian Dumitru’s entire collection includes more than 500 pieces, their number increasing from one exhibition to another through new acquisitions and donations. The engineer’s collection also includes 200 shell cases transformed into table lamps, grinders or ashtrays, gathered over the years from France, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Romania.
There are also military items used after the completion of wars for civil purposes: binoculars, lanterns, compasses, flashlights, aviation computers, ammunition boxes, maps. These were highly regarded for being their toughness and are still functioning, after 70-100 years. Among the 200 Trench Art objects there is a table lamp made of a German defensive grenade from World War I, with a soldier’s helmet as the lampshade, a coffee grinder made from a projectile tube, lighters made from machine gun cartridges and ashtrays made from grenades.
Another special object is the flower vase made from a cannon projectile case, offered by General Philippe Henri Joseph d’Anselme, commander of the French Army in the Orient, to the wife of Marshal Prezan, a clay ashtray inscribed with the 18th Infantry Regiment Gorj, where Ecaterina Teodoroiu served, an ashtray made from a gun barrel and a smoking table, made entirely of gun barrels, 70 centimetres high – the most expensive piece in his collection, as Cristian Dumitru confessed.