Museum honours last war artist

Courtesy Canadian War Museum

Courtesy Canadian War Museum

This painting, “Private Roy,” is part of the Canadian War museum exhibition featuring the work of Molly Bobak.

The Canadian War Museum has launched a tribute to honour the death of the last remaining war artist from the Second World War, Molly Lamb Bobak, who died on March 2 at the age of 94 at the Veterans Health Unit in Fredericton.

There are 10 of Bobak’s most "robust" and "representational" oil paintings on display until March 31 in the main hallway leading to the permanent exhibits at the LeBreton Flats museum.

"We know that people pass through here a lot, so we thought this was a really good way to make sure as many people as possible had the opportunity to see her work and to know of her story," says Amber Lloydlangston, historian of art and war at the museum and curator of the tribute.

Bobak studied at the Vancouver School of Art before enlisting in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942. After three years she rose to the rank of lieutenant and in 1945 she became the first woman appointed to the position of war artist and was sent to Europe for a year.

As a war artist she depicted the work, training, and personal moments of the women serving with the CWAC abroad and overseas.

The museum staff worked fast to establish something for Bobak, no easy task with a collection of 115 of her works, according to Lloydlangston.

The tedious process began the day after Bobak’s death and four days later her vibrant works were illuminated on the wall of the busy hallway.

Included in the tribute is Bobak’s "Private Roy," a painting of an African-Canadian member of CWAC, which is popular with both visitors and staff members, says Lloydlangston.

War art historian Laura Brandon "had particularly noticed two of our hosting staff giving each other a high five when they saw the painting of Pte. Roy," says Lloydlangston. "Those two young women happen to be of Somali origin, and when they saw an African-Canadian woman in a painting they were just thrilled to bits."

Bobak’s accomplishments as a war artist go beyond just her work with CWAC, says Brian Foss, director of the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University.

"She went to Germany and she painted really tough things like bombed ruins in Germany, really gritty, hard, disturbing paintings, and so what she ended up doing was disproving this idea that women can’t paint violent and harsh subjects," says Foss.

Her work was instrumental in creating opportunities for the female artists that followed her in the pursuit of war art, says Foss.

"I have great admiration for her, because she was doing something that in my heart I feel very close to," says Karen Bailey, a modern war artist and Ottawa resident.

Bailey worked for two years on her collection titled "Triage," from 2007 to 2009 during the war in Afghanistan.