Curator’s Corner: Trench Art

On Saturday, June 6 at 1 p.m., the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will be launching its new exhibit; the Science, Technology, Engineering, and MATH Center. More commonly known as the STEM Center, the focus of this center will be a youth-oriented exploration of these educational principals as they are incorporated into the knowledge fundaments of the seven Seabee job ratings. The goal is to stimulate learning at all ages while respecting the ingenuity and innovation historically linked to the Seabee community since their inception during WWII.

The motto of the Seabees is “Can Do” and during wartime the Seabees sometimes did not have all the tools they needed to do their job. They persevered and managed to get things done with their “Can Do” attitude! Many Seabees made trinkets called “trench art” in their off duty hours while deployed to pass their time. One of the stations in the STEM Center is the “Can Do” Station which will challenge patrons to create their own trench art from the materials provided.

The Seabee Museum has a great many “trench art” objects in our museum collection. Many of these historical objects can already be found on exhibit around the museum; such as ashtrays made of inert ordnance (inactive ammunition), knives, and lighters.


Trench art bracelet made out of Australian coins. 1944 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

Other interesting trench art pieces created by Seabees during the time of war also included jewelry. Seabees wanted to send home gifts to their sweethearts, so they used whatever they had handy. A great example of the jewelry is this trench art bracelet, created by shaping Australian coins and linking them together. The charm in the middle says “To Rosie Dawn From Hap,” and on the reverse side, “New Guinea 1944”. This bracelet was created by a Seabee assigned to the 122nd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) during WWII while deployed to New Guinea.


Trench art plaque of Iwo Jima and Seabee of the 90th NCB made from Japanese aircraft salvage (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

Seabees would come across a lot of scrap metal working with construction. A souvenir made out of scrap aluminum from a salvaged Japanese aircraft created a hand cast small plaque. This plaque was formed into the shape of the Island of Iwo Jima with Mount Suribachi represented at the top and the 90th NCB logo in the middle. These plaques are rare and were made for the Seabees of the 90th NCB while they served in the Pacific Theater during WWII.


Trench art model Lockheed P-38 Lightning airplane, made from inert ordnance (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection)

Another detailed piece of trench art created during the Bougainville Campaign, which was a series of land and naval battles between the Allied forces and the Empire of Japan during WWII, was a model Lockheed P-38 Lightning airplane. This piece of trench art was created by a Seabee assigned to the 25th NCB while on Bougainville, Territory of new Guinea. This model plane was created out of inert/inactive ammunition using .50 cal and 7.62mm bullets and cartridges.

Come to the Seabee Museum to visit our new STEM center opening this Saturday at 1p.m. and view our collection of trench art created by the Seabees.


150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King
Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

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