Virtual exhibition celebrates groundbreaking Canadian war artist Molly Lamb Bobak

Article / October 1, 2020 / Project number: 20-0111

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By Moira Farr, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — “I love the army and I’ll keep on putting down what I see until the war is over,” said Molly Lamb Bobak in 1945.

She was 25 years old, and three years earlier, had made history as the first Canadian female war artist who was also a serving member of the military. Her role was to document another first - the wartime activities of the newly formed Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC).

The Canadian War Museum’s virtual exhibition (ongoing indefinitely), “Women in Service — The War Art of Molly Lamb Bobak,” showcases Bobak’s works from the museum’s Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. 

As a member of CWAC herself, Bobak travelled across Canada during the war, and to England and Europe shortly after the war ended. Her paintings show women in training, marching, doing gas drills or working at various jobs. She also documented war damage to London and spent six weeks travelling around post-VE Day northwestern Europe in the back of a truck, sketching and painting what she observed. 

“It’s a unique style,” says exhibition curator and historian Stacey Barker. “It’s almost like you’re watching a scene unfold before you, in a candid way. The compositions are very informal. You just happen to see a group of women sorting mail overseas or working on a car in London. She’s very observational that way. She was one of them, so she kind of fit into the scene herself.” 

The exhibition was originally meant to travel to galleries and museums across Canada, but plans changed due to COVID-19. “Art is something that should be experienced in person, but we’ve done a really good job of reproducing them to a high quality online. You can zoom in and really look at the details,” says Barker. 

The exhibition is notable as both an exploration of Bobak’s wartime art (she also had a lively post-war career, and died in 2014 at the age of 94), and as history. 

“She’s a fantastic artist, and these paintings are meant to be appreciated as art, but also as a historical source. I’d like to see them studied in history courses,” says Barker. 

As history, Bobak’s paintings take on more poignancy, as fewer veterans are alive today to share their wartime experiences. “We heard from quite a few women about five years ago when we did another exhibition of women in war. Family members and women who had served would come and see it and tell us their stories. Hopefully something similar will come from this,” says Barker.

To view the exhibition, go to https://www.warmuseum.ca/mollylambbobak/

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