James Shilson (born 1910) was a career naval officer. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he also obtained a B.S. at the U.S. Naval Academy and an M.S. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served on battleships, cruisers and destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific. During World War II he joined the staff of the commander of the Central Pacific, and afterwards held a series of leadership roles in a variety of capacities. By 1953, he held the rank of Commander and was Operations Officer for the Atlantic Mine Forces.
The term “trench art” encompasses a wide range of military crafts produced during wartime by deployed soldiers, though the term also includes items relating to military efforts made by others during or after the war. Military personnel adopted trench art crafts to pass the time while deployed or as a hobby/business after retirement. The items were often made as commemorative souvenirs or trophies for personnel use, trade, or sale. Trench art items made in the battlefield, or by prisoners of war, are generally more simple and primitive, sometimes considered folk art, reflecting limited access to tools and materials.
Originally “trench art” referred to art made in the notorious trenches of World War I and most often still is used in reference to decorative arts with primary components made from parts of military ammunitions and weapons, such as brass or copper artillery or mortar shells or casings (with additional fabricated parts of metal to complete them). Trench art decorative arts can also be made from, or supplemented with, other materials, such as natural animal shells or other found objects available in the field to military personnel.
Trench art decorative arts are often decorated with information or insignias for the military division that the solider belonged to. Sometimes they incorporate details of specific important battles in text, as well as illustrations such as applicable maps, aircraft, battleships, etc. These decorations are often engraved on metal shell casings, or sometimes painted. Popular decorative art forms from World War I and World War II include aircraft and tanks. Fabricated utilitarian objects include mugs, lamps, and picture frames. Painted souvenirs include helmets and sea shells.
Inscription on brass plate: Captain J.S. Shilson, U.S. Navy Chief of Staff, COMINPAC, 22 Oct 1961 – 12 May 1963.
Condition Report: Generally very good with the usual overall light wear, oxidation, abrasions, minor dents.
“Commander J.S. Shilson, Mine Force Atlantic Fleet – Naval Cruise Book – Class of 1953.” eYearbook.com. http://www.e-yearbook.com/yearbooks/Mine_Force_Atlantic_Fleet_Cruise_Book/1953/Page_12.html (25 January 2012).
Kimball, Jane A. “Trench Art of the Great War and Related Souvenirs.” 1989, 2005. Online at: Trench Art: An Illustrated History. http://www.trenchart.org/ (14 December 2011).