27

SUNDAY

The next time you spot a beefy guy sporting a camouflage get-up, instead of wincing at his fashion don’t, consider the history of his garment. I’ll bet you didn’t know that turn-of-the-century artist Abbott Thayer—known for painting ethereal angels and society portraits—harbored an obsession with plumage that led to his then-radical theory of “concealing-coloration.” His theory is axiomatic now, but his contemporaries—zoologists and naturalists among them—rejected him as a crank. When World War I broke out, Thayer became a camo crusader, trying desperately to convince Allied armies that warring humans could save a few lost limbs by following nature’s lead. The French—and the Germans—adopted the artist’s ideas quickly, but the British hesitated. Eventually, the British ambassador to the United States’ wife wrote to tell Thayer that the limeys, too, were now attired in “coats of motley hue and stripes of paint,” just as he had suggested. Author Richard Meryman discusses Thayer’s pioneering theory at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of American Art’s Lecture Hall, 8th & G Sts. NW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Jessica Dawson)