Drawing in the Dark:
Hoyt Sherman and the Flash Lab
at Ohio State University

by Roy R. Behrens

This essay was published initially (with somewhat different wording) in Print magazine (September-October 1992), pp. 96-101. Copyright © by Roy R. Behrens.http://www.uni.edu/artdept/behrens.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0
It was Monday, December 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the day on which war on Japan was declared. That morning, a drawing instructor named Hoyt L. Sherman (1903-1981) arrived at his office at Ohio State University in Columbus to find his colleagues—still stunned by the news of the bombing—discussing how they, as teachers of subjects like art and design, could contribute to the country’s defense. Sherman joined the discussion—and, within a matter of hours, he had come up with a curious plan.

Eight years earlier, Sherman had read about an incident in the life of the 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. One day, while still a young artist, Rembrandt was standing inside his father's windmill, looking at various aspects of the interior, the walls of which were broken up by intense shafts of sunlight. He noticed the strobe-like effects of the windmill blades, passing outside the windows, alternately blocking and letting in light. 

While still focusing on objects within the windmill, Rembrandt began to see the interior as a generic figure-ground pattern, a visual gestalt, as distinct from a sequence of separate views. This momentary insight was a turning point for the artist, of such importance that, according to Sherman, it was "the dominating experience in his life because it revealed to him how a painter should see and organize each motif he paints."

It was with this incident in mind that Sherman that morning walked into the office of the Chairman of the OSU Department of Art, and announced that he had a proposal: "We will teach aviators how to see," he explained, "We will use Rembrandt's method." He went on to describe a proposal to establish a US Navy Aircraft Identification Program at the university, in which the art faculty would use innovative teaching methods to train Navy personnel to detect and identify aircraft, and, more generally, to enhance the defensive perceptual skills of civilians as well as servicemen.

Amazingly, the proposal was quickly accepted by the US Navy, and Sherman was designated the art consultant. Unfortunately, within two weeks of his appointment, it was abruptly terminated because of an unexpected, if curious, turn of events. Here's what happened: More…DrawingInDark2.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0
A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009)
Above OSU art professor Hoyt Sherman (left), with OSU football quarterback Pandel Savic, demonstrating the “flash helmet,” a modified football practice helmet with a visor that Sherman could open and close very quickly by means of a cord. During the brief exposure, the passer had to spot the receiver, then throw the ball while the visor was closed. Below right is Sherman’s drawing of the flash helmet.
 1    2     3
click here
for a guide to our websites
Above During World War II, aircraft and ship identification silhouettes (in the form of decks of playing cards) were widely distributed to US citizens and military personnel.
OSU Archives
Bobolink Books  |  Iowa Home Page  |  CAMOUPEDIA  |  How Ballast Began  |  How Form Functions  |  WPA http://www.bobolinkbooks.com/Index/Home.htmlhttp://www.bobolinkbooks.com/Iowa/Home.htmlhttp://www.bobolinkbooks.com/Camoupedia/DazzleCamouflage.htmlhttp://www.bobolinkbooks.com/BALLAST/HowBallastBegan.htmlhttp://www.bobolinkbooks.com/Gestalt/HowFormFunctions.htmlhttp://www.bobolinkbooks.com/BALLAST/WPA.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0shapeimage_9_link_1shapeimage_9_link_2shapeimage_9_link_3shapeimage_9_link_4shapeimage_9_link_5
Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) shipping
A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012) Michael Torlen (2013), “Hit With a Brick: The Teachings of Hoyt L. Sherman” in Visual Inquiry: Learning and Teaching Art. Vol 2 No 3, pp. 313-326—

“[At the first class meeting] Sherman handed out a course outline and began his lecture. Then he turned and walked over to a table stacked with a variety of materials, including a pile of red bricks. Seemingly distracted, Sherman stopped discussing his syllabus ans started seraching for something beneath the brick pile. He stacked and re-shuffled the bricks, sorting and clinking them loudly against each other, until he suddenly turned and hurled a brick directly at our heads.

Certain he had aimed the brick at me, I scrambled to get out of the way, murmuring, ‘Is this guy crazy? Sherman was laughing. The brick he threw was a piece of foam rubber, the same size as the other bricks, painted brick red. Sherman explained that we were unable to distinguish the foam rubber brick from the cluster of real bricks, because our past experience, our associations and our memory of bricks influenced us. Our reactions developed from the false assumption that similar things are identical” (p. 314).