Dazzle Painting –
Not What You Might Expect!

by Michelle Hollander


Viewers may be a little mystified when they see the John J. Harvey fireboat at the 35th Annual Oyster Festival on October 13th and 14th

The John J. Harvey was the first fireboat to be powered by internal combustion engines in addition to being the first fireboat that could maneuver and pump water at the same time.  Harvey first went to work in 1931 and served 63 years before being retired.  However, she came back to work on September 11th, 2001, pumping water until the water mains could be repaired, and now serves as a working educational museum.

This October, she’ll dock in West Harbor with a very odd red and white paint job.  However, the Harvey is not just trying to be funky.  Artist Tauba Auerback specifically painted the designs in reminiscence of the disruptive camouflage patterns, known as “Dazzle”, that were used on ships mainly during WWI to cause confusion and help protect our ships from enemy U-boats.    

During the war, boats were painted both with contrasting colors and irregular patterns not to make the ships invisible, but rather to make it difficult for enemies to determine the ship’s profile/ outline, its size, how fast it was traveling, and the direction it was heading.   

At the end of WWI, Dazzle designs could be found on over 4,000 British merchantmen and 400 warships. 

Many believe the designs were inspired by nature.  For example, Zebra stripes can be confusing to predators especially when a herd (or zeal) is bunched together. 

Of course, this event inspired us at The WaterFront Center.  We plan to incorporate this material into a new STEM lesson that ties together the myriad of ways animals camouflage themselves and how innovative solutions can be inspired by the world around us.  Students will be further challenged to create new technologies based on nature – a field known as “biomimicry”.    


Come check out the John J. Harvey and meet us at festival!