Dellschau-2-bar

Charles Dellschau (1830-1923) was a US outsider artist, who left behind fascinating paintings. Some of these contain encrypted texts.

Do you know what outsider art is? Outsider art is art created by persons, who have no connections to museums, universities or other cultural institutions. The best known outsider artist who has earned a place in crypto history is James Hampton (1909-1964). Hampton lived an unobtrusive life as a cook and janitor in the Washington, D.C., area. Only after his death an overwhelming art installation was found in his garage. In addition, he left behind an encrypted notebook, which has never been solved.

 

Charles Dellschau

Two years ago, blog reader Ruth Krämer-Klink made me aware of another outsider artist interesting for crypto history enthusiasts: Charles Dellschau (1830-1923). Like James Hampton, Dellschau remained completely unknown during his lifetime. Born in Germany, he emigrated to Texas in his early twenties, where he worked as a butcher. He probably never was involved with an art academy or art museum.

Dellschau

In the 1960s a used furniture dealer, Fred Washington, noticed a number of old books containing hand-drawn paintings on a landfill in Houston, Texas. He took them to his warehouse, where they ended up under a pile of discarded carpet. Only years later a local art collector became aware of these books. As it turned out, they were created by a man named Charles Dellschau. This is how Dellschau became finally known as an outsider artist. The paintings found on the landfill are the only Dellschau works known today. What makes them interesting for this blog is that they contain encrypted texts. Contrary to Hampton’s notebook, Dellschau’s cryptograms have been broken.

I wrote my first two articles on Dellschau in May 2015. Over the last weekend, these articles were called up noticeably often. As it seems, Dellschau was covered somewhere in the media – maybe on TV or on the internet. If a reader knows the exact reason for the many page hits I got, I would be interested to learn.

 

Dellschau’s paintings

Here’s a typical Dellschau painting:

Dellschau-Painting-5

Many of Dellschau’s paintings show balloons, dirigibles, or flying carriages, sometimes including pilots and passengers.

Dellschau-Painting-2

Here’s another one, including a Scientific American title page:

Dellschau-Painting-4

 

Dellschau’s cryptograms

The book The Secrets of Dellschau by Dennis Crenshaw and Pete Navarro tells the story of Dellschau and his works. The authors argue that Dellschau hid secrets within his artwork. As I haven’t read this book yet, I don’t know any details. However, it is clear that some of Dellschau’s paintings contain secret writing. Pete Navarro, who spent 27 years studying Dellschau’s works, has broken this code. An overview showing many encrypted text passages and a substitution table is available here.

The following word appears quite often in Dellschau’s paintings (it means NYMZA, which is the name of an alleged aviation organisation):

Dellschau-NYMZA

Here’s an encrypted text from one of Dellschau’s paintings:

Dellschau-Painting-Cryptogram1

I don’t know the cleartext, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to decrypt it using the substitution table given on the website linked above. The following drawing contains secret writing, too:

Dellschau-Painting-1

Dellschau’s paintings and cryptograms are unique and fascinating. So far, no scholar with a background in cryptology has taken a closer look at them. I hope and trust this will change in the near future.


Further reading: An extraordinary encrypted book: George Orwell’s “1984” enciphered in color

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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Nick Pelling
    http://www.ciphermysteries.com/
    1. Februar 2017

    Errm… I don’t believe that the substitution cipher key given on the other page works as well as the decryptor seems to have thought, because I tried it on the first few lines of the big cryptogram you reproduced, and got:

    NYMZA
    ALL?INSGRAB
    ACHBR??DRICH
    ?OM?A?CH

    It would probably be more worthwhile transcribing that cryptogram independently and putting it into cryptocrack etc.

  2. #2 Merzmensch
    1. Februar 2017

    As I stated im previous comments, Navarro seems to decrypt most of the codes in Dellschaus OEurve. In his notebooks he wrote down Dellschau code. I have a copies of some his notes, but they were provided to me by gallerist Stephen Romano, who owns all the diaries and notebooks, so I don’t know, whether I’m authorized to publish it. But what I can do is: I can use the PDF-decoding system in Dellschau as well (Just have to find more time for this).

    Btw., in this wonderfully edited book you can find all works by Dellschau including coded messages:
    http://www.artbook.com/9781935202905.html

  3. #3 Marc
    1. Februar 2017

    @Nick
    It works. This is a German text :

    ALLE INS GRAB ACH BRUEDER ICH
    COME? AUCH BALTD WE?R WIRD MEINE ZEICHNUNGEN ERBEN . . . . . etc.

  4. #4 Marc
    1. Februar 2017

    ALLE INS GRAB ACH BRUEDER ICH
    COME? AUCH BALD WE?R WIRD MEINE ZEICHNUNGEN ERBEN . . . . . etc.

  5. #5 Marc
    1. Februar 2017

    … MEINE FREUDIGE LIEBEN GEISTESARBEITEN ODER SOLLEN SIE DER WELT VERLOREN GEHN FUER MICH EIN BÖSER GEDANK ICH HOFFE DAS SCHIKSAL GIBTS DEN RECHTEN MANN

  6. #6 Nick Pelling
    http://www.ciphermysteries.com/
    1. Februar 2017

    Excellent, thanks! :-)

  7. #7 Thomas
    1. Februar 2017

    Super, Marc!
    Jedenfalls Klaus’ blog trägt dazu bei, dass Dellschaus “Geistesarbeiten” nicht der Welt verloren gehen. Ob sie dies, abgesehen vom kryptologischen Gehalt, verdient haben, ist der kurzen Passage leider nicht zu entnehmen. Wäre interessant zu wissen, ob seine Ideen von späteren Flugpionieren verwertet wurden.

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    1. Februar 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    It is nice to see his work was saved from the landfill.

  9. #9 tomtoo
    1. Februar 2017

    Cool ! This Paintings are real steampunk.
    THX Klaus!

  10. #10 Marc
    1. Februar 2017

    Yes, this is cool. One of the encrypted messages is:
    “Nonsense enough” :-)