St-Josse-ten-Noode received the first sacks of flour from America on December 25 and 26: 200 sacks of flour, of which 176 sacks of flour of 64 kg to be distributed to the bakeries during the Christmas season: ‘L’ ALIMENTATION’. – La commune de St-Josse-ten-Noode, a reçu les 25 et 26 courant, 200 sacs de farine; 176 sacs ont été réparti entre les boulangers de la commune et 24 sacs ont été remis à l’Œuvre de l’alimentation de la commune. Chaque sac était de 64 kilos. (“FOOD’. – The municipality of St-Josse-ten-Noode, received the 25th and 26th, 200 sacks of flour; 176 sacks were distributed among the bakers of the commune and 24 sacks were given to l’Œuvre de l’alimentation of the commune. Each sack was 64 kilos (Le Bruxellois, December 30, 1914).
The cover photo of the Christmas issue of the Belgian illustrated magazine Le Temps Présent shows a young, hungry girl, a toddler, taking a bite of a thick sandwich. It would turn out to be an iconic photo.
The American Edward Eyre Hunt (1885-1953), author of the book “War Bread”, published about his life in Belgium when he worked in the province of Antwerp for the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).
In his book Hunt uses the same photo on the frontispiece as the published photo on the Christmas cover of the Belgian magazine: the ‘Christmas girl’, enjoying a big sandwich.
Hunt reports on the decorating of flour sacks by ladies in Antwerp. The caption under the photograph of six decorated flour sacks is: “FLOUR SACKS. Embroidered and painted by the Belgians as souvenirs for the Americans.” Through my research of decorated flour sacks from WWI, I can add that the Belgians made the souvenirs not only for the Americans, but also for themselves.
A hundred years later, the image of the “Christmas girl” shows up again. In 2018, “WWI Crusaders” was published by author Jeffrey B. Miller from Denver, Colorado. The image of the “Christmas girl” decorates both the side and backcover of the book. The author is grandson of Erica Bunge (1892-1986) from Antwerp, Belgium, who married CRB employee Milton M. Brown (1893-1979) from Cincinnati, Ohio. Miller describes the love story of his grandparents and the intense life of the young men and women who worked for the CRB from August 1914 to May 1917.
The cover photo of L’Evénément Illustré shows a painting by Belgian artist Gaston Haustraete.
I became acquainted with Haustraete (Everbeek, 1878 – Ixelles, 1949) through his painted flour sack from Thompson Milling Co., included in the Moulckers Collection, St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas, USA. The child’s portrait on the flour sack shows a striking resemblance to the child’s portrait on the Christmas cover. In both paintings the child holds something in his right fist, on the cover photo it looks like a toy soldier, symbol for father, fighting at the front? The red flowers on the flour sack symbolize hope. The story of the flour sack is described in my (Dutch) blog of November 30, 2018 about the Moulckers Collection.
December call in the newspaper: “Go look at the American Sacks. Works made by workers. 105, rue Neuve, Brussels”.
In Anderlecht, near Brussels, an exhibition of art and crafts opened in December 1915 in the veterinary school, where works of art could be obtained through a raffle. The proceeds of the fundraising were intended for the local relief commission.
I suspect that decorated flour sacks would have been amongst the displayed artworks. The institute of the Sœurs de Notre Dame, a professional school for girls, was established in Anderlecht. They have decorated a lot of flour sacks in class during their lessons. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa owns dozens of pieces of the students from Anderlecht.
Evariste Carpentier (Kuurne, 1845 – Liège, 1922) painted a flour sack from Preston Milling Co., Preston, Idaho, USA. As a leading painter and former director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Liège, Carpentier’s Christmas painting was photographed. The image was reproduced as a postcard, of which copies were sold for charity: the soup distribution in Liège. The postcards are still sought-after collectables.
During the Christmas and New Year period, the former students of the Academy in Liège organized the 15th Salon of Art and Applied Art, the proceeds of which were intended for, among other things, the “Solidarité Artistique”. The fund provided discreet assistance to the many poor artists who were affected by the war and occupation conditions. The program booklet contains various embroidery items from the ladies Irma Terhell and Nina Kepenne-Delheid, but I cannot tell whether they were decorated flour sacks.
Women and young children around the Christmas tree make up the painting on the cover of the Christmas edition.
“C’est la fête intime de la famille, qui réunit tous les cœurs en une douce communion de pensées, de souvenirs et de joies. (It is the intimate celebration of the family, which unites all hearts in a sweet communion of thoughts, memories and joy).”
In London, in the great hall of the Criterion building, an elite party gathered to attend a thé concert, organized by an extensive ladies’ committee, for the “Noël des Petits pauvres d ‘Anvers” (Christmas of the Little Poor of Antwerp). The concert started with an old dance of dancers in classical costumes, then some soloists sang beautiful songs. The following interlude included the sale by auction of a series of embroidered flour sacks. The auction raised 40 pounds.
Georges Desplas, who was mentioned on the program with the pompous title of “official speaker of the Belgian army”, … received much applause after singing his army songs. With astonishing energy, he acted as an auctioneer, improvising, who auctioned off decorated, in Belgium, embroidered flour sacks from WWI. He raised nearly forty pounds, which will be transferred to charity; the result of his wordsmithing…
At the end of 1916 and the end of 1917, the Belgian newspapers reported few articles about decorated flour sacks. The population suffered greatly from food, clothing and fuel shortages and ice-cold winters.