Ottawa

Portrait exhibition an intimate homage to service, sacrifice

Homage — The Art of Elaine Goble portrays lives forever changed by the Second World War.

Artist Elaine Goble spent a decade portraying lives forever changed by WWII

Artist Elaine Goble stands in front of her portrait of Philip Favel (1922–2021) of Sweetgrass First Nation, a veteran of the Battle of Normandy. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

While attending the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa in 1995, local artist Elaine Goble was moved to sketch the faces of some of the veterans gathered around the National War Memorial.

That November day sparked more than a decade of art-making dedicated to portraying people whose lives were forever changed by their experiences during the Second World War.

Now, 14 of her portraits are on display at the Canadian War Museum in an exhibition called Homage — The Art of Elaine Goble.

'When Gwen Paget held the painting in her lap, she said, ‘I really must have done something important,' Goble said. Paget died last year. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"They were like a long lineup of elderly people holding a very heavy box of history just begging to get into the war museum," said Goble. "I took a paintbrush and I just opened the door for them."

Each face tells a story, and each image is a testament to their service, resilience and profound sacrifice. Among them is a Holocaust survivor, a code breaker, a fighter pilot and a Cree veteran of the Normandy invasion. 

Before she puts paint to canvas, Goble will typically spend time with her subjects, taking photographs or just talking.

"I prefer to think of myself more as a diarist," she said.

Frances Tippet, who served as a Canadian Wren during the Second World War, poses in front of her portrait, which melds past and present. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ottawa resident Frances Tippet visited the museum with her family to see the unveiling of her portrait, titled Washington.

Tippet turns 99 next month, but as a young woman she served in Washington D.C. with Canada's Women's Royal Naval Service, better known as the Wrens.

"It's a great honour," said Tippet. "I don't feel that I did anything in particular, except serve for four years."

Tippet's portrait is set against a graphite rendering of a group of Wrens, young women with confident expressions and smart outfits including new stockings and bright white shoes.

"It was the thing to do. My father was in the military," said Tippet. "it was a tradition to serve."

'George Banning asked me to show the world who he was: a man who had lost a limb, a man still tender-hearted and seeking affection, a man thwarted and, at times, resentful," Goble said. Banning died in 2006. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Goble asked her subjects to look through old photo albums and dusty trunks for cherished belongings that would add significance to their story.

"I said, what are the treasures, the mementos, the talismans?" said Goble. "And they would bring out medals and they would bring out photos and they would bring out newspaper clippings, and they would just offer them to me."

As a 10-year-old boy in Austria, Ernst Frank was enlisted in the Hitler Youth, then later in the German army. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Another of Goble's subjects, Ernst Frank, had his childhood cut short when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. By the time he was 10, Franks and his neighbourhood friends were enlisted in the Hitler Youth, then later in the German army.

"Everything went so fast," he recalled. "It was so hopeless. Everybody could see it was."

Until he sat down for his portrait with Goble, Frank had never discussed his war experience outside his immediate family. Now it's on display at the museum for all to see, alongside portraits of Canadian veterans.

"I think I was very lucky to go on in life and choose another country, Canada." he said. "It seemed to be the best of all the countries, and it still is."

Watch | Meet the Ottawa artist behind the War Museum's latest exhibit 

Meet the Ottawa artist behind the War Museum’s latest exhibit

21 days ago
1:55
Artist Elaine Goble has drawn and painted the stories of Canada’s veterans for more than 20 years. Fourteen of those portraits have now found a home at the Canadian War Museum in an exhibit titled “Homage.” 1:55

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.

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