Carved leaves made by soldiers in the trenches

Wartime isn't all smoke and horror. There's lots of idle time, hours to while away in anticipation and dread. Chewing on your fingernails seems a good use of the day until they're bitten to the quick, so some other method of entertainment to concentrate on will have to suffice. But resources are limited in the dugout. There's just the essentials and bits of trash, dirt, twigs, leaves…

Leaves! Resourceful soldiers found canvas in folliage, carefully carving them to curious effect. Typically, we see the notes to lovers, names of children, keepsakes from points of station. Trench art is a curious form of outsider art, made from innovative materials, executed by careful hand and patience, spawned from boredom and probably misery.

Source: Wikimedia commons (public domain)

While it's a bit of exaggeration to say that these miniature works of art were all made 100% in the trenches, they certainly weren't made by soldiers in the comfort of their own homes. Here's a memento from Serbia, written in a fine cursive.

Source: Doc. Jeannette Lassauce, Passy, les Soudans

Some of the images are quite unique and display an unusual sensibility for bold graphics.

Source: Doc. Jeannette Lassauce, Passy, les Soudans

Whereas these gestures leave a bit of the human in the landscape, Hodeau's engravings take a bit of the landscape with the human. "I was here" says one; "I was there" says the other.

As unique as his objects may seem, Hodeau was not alone in carving leaves. The art form flourished during World War I as a way to enhance letters home with a unique lightweight enclosure. Soldiers used a needle or knife to whittle between the oak and chestnut veins, leaving only words or, sometimes, an image. Due to the partial opacity of perforated leaves, the carvings are especially enchanting when lit from behind; sometimes they're called "feuilles de poilus", or "tree leaf lace".

Sasha Archibald and Hunter Dukes, Public Domain Review