The Genealogy Center >> Our Military Heritage >> Spanish-American War >> Kuhn, Edward, 202nd New York Infantry

Kuhn, Edward, 202nd New York Infantry

Return to search and contents

Digitized image of this article

The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C, May 11, 1924 - Part 5

Army Sergeant a Talented Artist And Also an Embroidery Expert

Man of Pluck Has Risen From Sawmill Laborer to Present Military Post and Kept Up His Art Work - Designer of Insignia for Commands

Of all the astonishing wonders of Washington the case of Edward C. Kuhn of the coast artillery - a hard-boiled Army sergeant, who paints beautiful water colors, oils and pastels, designs complicated coats of arms and military insignia and embroiders more expertly than any of the Capital city fair sex - stands in the fore rank.

The romantic story of Kuhn's life is as thrilling as though it stepped right out of the pages of America's best novel. Success to this soldier has been heavy, uphill going all the way. Discouragements to Kuhn, however, have been revised into renewed determination to make the peak grade. By plodding pluck he has bridged the gap from sawmill laborer to Army sergeant, to champion designer of military insignia, regimental crests and coats of arms. He has geared an artistic training to an extraordinary line of work.

Kuhn, for recreation and diversion, works adeptly with needle and silks, and designs and embroiders centerpieces, portieres, pillow covers and curtains. Just because he is expert with embroidery do not think for a minute that this top sergeant of Washington is effeminate. Twenty-six years in the ranks, mess halls and barracks of our national posts in Cuba, Porto Rico, Panama, the Philippines, Japan and all sections of the United States have taught Kuhn all the tricks of the soldier's trade. He is as expert at fisticuffs or feats of strength as he is proficient with needle and paint brush or drawing pencil. He may be able to cross-stitch the most complicated embroidery pattern, but he is also brave and fearless. Charging an enemy dugout amid a rain of shellfire is another of his accomplishments.

Kuhn's first job was that tof (sic) sawmill laborer in a lumbering camp in New York state. There he put in ten hours daily at the working end of a canthook, feeding huge logs to the whirling steel teeth. Work was over for the day for the rest of the crew when the 6 o'clock whistle blew. The real work of the day just began for Ed Kuhn when his ten-hour shift at long manipulating was finished.

Five nights a week Kuhn hurried home, grabbed a couple of sandwiches, change his clothes and scurried away to the station to catch the evening train for Buffalo, fourteen miles away. Perhaps you may think that Kuhn, being a lumberman, was training to become a wrestler or prize fighter; that his visits to the city permitted him to work out under the tutelage of an experienced coach. No, Kuhn did not go for any such purpose. e traveled regularly to Buffalo to attend art school. His ambition was to become a professional painter. He endured monumental hardships in order to gratify this desire.

The limited train on the return trip did not stop at Kuhn's village. He had to leave the train five miles up the line, at a junction, and hoof it home. Five nights in the seven he crawled between his blankets later than 1 o'clock in the morning. this gave him but five hours of rest, as he had to be at work in the sawmill by 7 o'clock.

For a half year the youthful woodsman-artist lived up to his strength-racking schedule and mastered the rudiments of the culture which he coveted. Then the Spanish-American war brorke (sic) out and Kuhn enlisted in the New York state volunteers.

Being a soldier did not deter the former sawmill workman from continuing his art work. He devoted all this spare time to his curious side line. Occasionally some of his mates would plague Kuhn unmercifully about his "dollhouse paintings." Sometimes Kuhn had to prove his adeptness at rough and tumble fighting before his tormentors would "lay off." He fought as enthusiastically as he painted, and shortly his comrades learned to leave him alone.

Stationed near New York city for several years, Kuhn devoted all his leisure to studying art under the direction of George De Forest Brush, one of America's modern masters. Some of Mr. Brush's productions are on permanent display in the National Museum, Corcoran, and Frear art galleries here in Washington. His paintings of Indians and madonnas are notable. One of his masterpieces is a picture of (???) American Indian spearing a lar(??) [Kem(ro)se] [Kem(o)ose].

(one or one and a half lines illegible) Brush about art. His regiment was transferred to Massachusetts. The first day that he could obtain leave he went to Boston, where he met Eric Pape, a notable illustrator, and arranged to continue his art work under Pape's supervision. A year later Kuhn was sent to Portland, Me. There he joined the Portland Art League. Wherever he went this singular soldier spent all his spare time trying to master the perplexities of art.

The routine life of a soldier in the coast artillery carried Kuhn to the seaboards of Panama, Cuba, Porto Rico and Japan. The strange soldier painted wherever he went. His military itinerary, which was always shifting, provided him with plenty of changes of scene and local color. He found vivid landscapes, tropical verdure, wilderness and jungle scenes, multicolored marines and every other conceivable kind of a setting he could reproduce on canvas. He tells interestingly of one waterfall and pool in Panama, where he went every day that he had leave for three months in order to study the colors and paint a satisfactory picture. After the picture was finished, Corp. Kuhn returned to the spot one day and found that the pool was the headquarters of several families of huge alligators.

Finally, he was stationed at Fort Hamilton, N.Y. The captain of the company, becoming interested in Kuhn's art efforts, asked the soldier to design an appropriate coat of arms and insignia for the company. After some study of company records and reference books on heraldry, Kuhn produced designs which so pleased the officer that he showed them to the colonel of the regiment. The colonel, immediately, asked Kuhn to work out insignia and crest and coat of arms for the regiment. This assignment so interested the soldier in heraldry that he made a thorough and painstaking study of flags, escutcheons, crests and coat (sic) of arms.

After several years of study, Kuhn made 150 (130?) remarkable drawings, depictive of the history and evolution of flags from the earliest days in 1001, when the Viking Ericson first flew his ensign of a black raven on a white field. Kuhn studied the evolution of the flag in each foreign country. The English flag came into being, for example, after the wars of the crusaders. The flaming red cross of St. George on a white background was the first banner which the followers of John Bull raised. The English Jack of today developed from that beginning. Kuhn says that the Starts (sic) and Stripes compose the most beautiful flag of all. He says that the proportions of the American flag are perfect.

When Kuhn was a corporal he became interested in the intricacies of the embroidery art. Like all other American soldiers, Kuhn early became proficient in the knack of handling a needle and thread and simple sewing. Kuhn jumped to the perplexing handicraft of complicated embroidery. After attaining skill in the new line of sewing, he determined to make a large embroidered tapestry of the American coat of arms.

At the outset, the soldier decided to use banner silk as the base of his embroidery. When he went to price the silk he found it would take all of his salary for more than three months to pay for the silk. Kuhn then decided to use ordinary sheeting as the base of his art piece. On a piece of sheeting containing thirty-nine square feet the corporal embroidered a silk field, composed of different shades of white, that was four and one-half by five feet. This was a tremendous task, as it took four hours of rapid work to embroider a strip one quarter of an inch wide across the length of the field. To embroider this would occupy the full time of a seamstress for more than one year.

After the silken field was completed Kuhn sketched the outline of the American coat of arms in place, with the cloudburst and the thirteen stars at the upper portion of the tapestry and eagle and banner below. He copied the design of a warlike, aggressive eagle used on a famous Austrian statue. In the claws of its left foot the bird holds thirteen arrows, while in the claws of the right foot appears an olive branch. The purple banner, with the Latin words "E Pluribus Unum" is outstretched behind the eagle. Altogether, he devoted his spare hours for fourteen years to the work of embroidering this remarkable tapestry. It contains more than 800 skeins fo (sic) silk of every color available. Sergt. Kuhn paid more than $40 for the silk he used in the coast (sic) of arms.

On the border of the tapestry he embroidered thirty-four flags, seven and one-half by ten inches in size, which pictorially tell the story of the evolution of the flag.

When the tapestry was completed the owner did not like the border, so he removed the flags and now is working them into a beautiful portiere. He placed an oriental tapestry border on the embroidered coat of arms in place of the complicated flag history.

After the equivalent of two years of constant labor, ten hours a day, on the mammoth piece of embroidery, he finally completed the work one evening at 9 o'clock.

The tapestry needed a bath after the completion of the embroidery. Kuhn was afraid to entrust the work to any one else, so he washed the piece in soap and water as soon as he had made the final stitch. It was necessary to iron the tapestry as soon after washing as possible. Although the facilities in his quarters were rather inadequate for such a task, the soldier, notwithstanding, started the fire and placed several flatirons on the stove. He neglected the fire which went out. When he got ready to iron the tapestry the flatirons were stone-cold. Kuhn had to renew the gre (sic) and heat the irons.

It was not until 2 o'clock in the morning that he finally finished his housewifely task. It was an appropriate time for completing the hardest job the older-artist ever attempted. The tapestry is valued at $7,500 to $10,000, although Sergt. Kuhn says he will not part with his masterpiece. Gen. Pershing has seen and admired the remarkable piece of work.

After the world war Sergt. Kuhn was assigned to a post in the coast artillery service in Washington, where he has been stationed from that day to this. His regular work is that of an expert draftsman, but as a side line he designs all the insignia and coats of arms for the various branches of our national military service. In this work he has to study up the detailed history of each regiment and to review the records of ancient heraldry. The designs of the insignia which the enlisted men wear on their collars and the officers on their shoulders are commemorative of stirring events which have occurred in the history of each regiment.

The 1st Regiment of cavalry use as the crest a black hawk in honor of the 1st Dragoons of 1838 that wore pointed stars and eagles on the tops of their shakos. The 3d Regiment of cavalry, known as the "Brave Rifles" and now stationed at Fort Myer, wears handsome insignia designed by Sergt. Kuhn. The design consists of a golden trumpet abreast a green enameled field of scroll work, with the words "Brave Rifles" on the border.

During the Mexican war the facings of the uniforms of the 3d Cavalry were green, while a golden trumpet was their seal and mascot. Speaking to the Brave Rifles after the battle of Chapultepec, in the Mexican war, Gen. Winfield Scott exclaimed: "Veterans, you have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel."

The coat of arms of the 1st Regiment of coast artillery, designed by Sergt. Kuhn, bears the Latin motto "Primus Inter Pares." A palmetto tree is overspread by a tower showing an artillery man holding a ramrod in his hands. The scene is depictive of the civil war battle at Fort Sumter. Detachments of the 2d coast Artillery occupied stations at Fort McHenry and Fort Pickens during the civil war. Francis scott Key composed "The Star Spangled Banner" during the siege of the former fortress, while the latter was the only fortification south of Fort Monroe which did not surrender to the confederacy. Sergt. Kuhn has featured these events in the handsome coat of arms and insignia which he has made for that regiment.

Kuhn's coat of arms for the 4th Coast Artillery pictures a cannon being choked down the mouth of the British lion. The scene is descriptive of what happened at the memorable battle of New Orleans. The 13th Coast Artillery is stationed at a point where four of our national coastal defenses converge. A key in a clasped hand is the coat of arms of this regiment, accompanied by the Latin motto "What I have I will defend."

Sergt. Kuhn has designed the original coat of arms for every National Guard regiment in the United States. The crest of the minutemen of the organized reserve also was drawn by this artist-soldier. For the coast defense of Delaware, he has used Lord Delaware's crest, with lion cubs below, shown on a blue field illustrative of the three former tenants of Delaware - Great Britain, Holland and Sweden - all of which use lions in their crests and seals.

The design for the Baltimore coast defense is based on Lord Baltimore's original crest, with a key, depictive of Francis Scott Key and our national anthem, which he composed.

The coast defense history of New Orleans teems with tales of the loyalty of the Ba(?)atarian pirates and Andrew Jackson's three lines of defenses that guarded the city. These episodes were capitalized by Kuhn in designing an appropriate coat of arms with the pelican the seal of Louisiana above.

Yes, Kuhn, the artistic sergeant, has even gone so far as to play detective and ferret out the silent secrets of frayed and torn flags which occasionally One notable exploit along this line occurred in New York city.

The tattered (remnants?) of a venerable flag which was carried at Washington's first inauguration were found. An Army chaplain, who was a friend of Sergt. Kuhn, was assigned the commission of preserving and reconstructing the ruined banner. Kuhn took the assignment off his friend's hands as soon as he learned the particulars, as it was just (such a?) scientific mystery as he (delighted?) in working with. After a pa(?)ing perusal of America's flag (?) heraldry records, Kuhn finally was successful in restoring the historic flag, which now is carefully preserved in the city hall of New York. The flag is red, with the design of a mortar, flag and trophy at its center. An eagle is shown seated on the peak of a gable. The Latin words on the flag mean "In peace, prepare for war."

The Genealogy Center - Providing genealogical and historical information about Allen County, Indiana, the United States, and beyond.
Questions about military history & genealogy? Contact Genealogy@ACPL.Info. Questions about this site? Contact cwitcher@ACPL.Info.
© 2004-2020, The Genealogy Center.      This site last updated 9 May 2020.