April 06, 2017
September 17, 2017
Honolulu Museum of Art
Camouflage Rhythms: Artwork by Juliette May Fraser features oil and watercolor paintings created by Fraser during World War II when she worked side-by-side with lei sellers making camouflage nets for the Army Corps of Engineers. Artists such as Fraser were recruited for their acumen with color, composition, and the painting and dyeing process. Lei sellers and fishnet makers were recruited for their expertise in weaving techniques and agile hands, and their deep knowledge of the Hawaiian environment where the camouflage nets were used to conceal military equipment. In an unexpected yet highly productive arrangement, Fraser and the lei sellers developed a system consisting of cutting burlap and recycled fabric into strips, dyeing and configuring the strips to blend in with specific areas around the islands, and then weaving the strips onto large-scale nets, often completed while singing Hawaiian songs.
This scenario emerged as a result of economic changes after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Hawaiʻi’s economy felt the impacts of war almost immediately, especially when the U.S. government requisitioned commercial passenger ships for military service in the weeks following December 7. Ships that transported goods to and from the islands were used to transport construction and military supplies, and the luxury liners that once brought tourists were re-purposed to bring construction workers and military service men and women to Hawaiʻi as part of what has become the military complex. By January 1942, the influx of American military personnel arriving by ship in place of wealthy vacationing travelers brought the booming lei-selling industry to a screeching halt. The painter and lei sellers adapted to the economic shifts and secured work that allowed them to continue being artists, in an entirely new context.