Our next Artist You Need To Know is Molly Lamb Bobak (1920 – 2014).
Lamb Bobak was a Canadian writer, printmaker, teacher and painter. During World War II, she was the first Canadian woman artist to be sent overseas to document Canada’s war effort, and in particular, the work of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (C.W.A.C). Her artworks can be roughly divided between two trends: still lives, often executed in watercolour that have an ephemeral quality and her more vivid and frenetic works in oil, that often depict the everyday and are focused upon people and events.
Joseph Plaskett – a contemporary of Lamb Bobak’s who was also an accomplished painter – offered the following about her and her work: “Art is her life and her expression. Life is celebrated . . . the drama is enacted.”
The daughter of celebrated photographer, art critic / journalist and collector Harold Mortimer-Lamb, Lamb Bobak – from an early age – wanted to be a painter, influenced by both her father and family friend A.Y. Jackson as well as other members of the Group of Seven. Lamb Bobak was a less than ideal student (this has been blamed on her supposed poor eyesight and disdain for some of her teachers): but with the encouragement of her mother, she attended the Vancouver School of Art where she met Jack Shadbolt, who became a good friend and great supporter, encouraging her to expand her horizons to include contemporary European artists.
In 1942 Lamb Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and was sent overseas to London where she depicted female military training as well as dynamic scenes of marches and parades. This would be subjects she’d return to often, in her work, and for which she is best known.
Upon her return from the U.K., Lamb Bobak married fellow war artist Bruno Bobak: during this period she taught at the Vancouver School of Art as well as working in radio and television, specifically offering art lessons through these media. With the assistance of a Canada Council grant, she and her husband would live in Europe for four years before her husband was offered a teaching position at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton (in 1960). They settled there, and Lamb Bobak lived and worked in that community for over half a century. She regularly gave workshops and taught art classes at UNB and across Canada. Lamb Bobak also continued her television work, offering live art lessons and served on the boards of many organizations, including the National Film Board, the Stamp Design Council, the National Capital Commission and the National Gallery Advisory Board.
Her work can be found in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada and the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Library and Archives Canada has her (and her husband’s) personal archives which is an impressive collection of prints (woodcut, serigraph, and wood engraving), drawings, watercolours, photographs and many other textual records. Other institutions that hold her work include the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Burnaby Art Gallery, Canada Council Art Bank, the Canadian War Museum, MacKenzie Art Gallery, the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery. A more detailed listing of her exhibitions and other accomplishments can be seen here.
“It is Molly’s paintings of crowds for which she is most famous. Bobak sees these events as aesthetic experiences. She is fascinated by the dynamic nature of a crowd which is never the same from one moment to another. She is preoccupied with giving order to the sense of perpetual movement and change.” (from the Alan Klinkhoff Gallery)
Lamb Bobak earned a number of honours over her life. These include the Order of New Brunswick (2002), the Order of Canada (1995), a Canada Council Fellowship (1960 – 61) and a scholarship from the French government (1950 – 51). She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1973. The MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan produced a major retrospective of her work in 1993 which toured to numerous locations. She received honorary degrees from the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University.
In 1992, Dundurn Press published Lamb Bobak’s diaries, with many illustrations by the artist, under the title, Double Duty: Sketches and Diaries of Molly Lamb Bobak, Canadian War Artist. Lamb Bobak also created illustrations for a number of children’s books, including Sheree Fitch’s Toes in My Nose.
She passed on March 2, 2014: Lamb Bobak was the last living member of the over thirty official war artists in WW II at the time of her death.
Lamb Bobak was one of the first of Canada’s female artists to both work professionally and earn a living from their art. She is also the subject of another fine feature from the Art Canada Institute | Institut de l’Art Canadien: that can be enjoyed here and has much more information about her life (as she was a trailblazer, in many arenas) and many more images of her artwork. This includes a short video by Michelle Gewurtz about Bobak that can be watched here.
From the AIC site: “Molly Lamb Bobak has been well recognized for her lively sketches and paintings of army life during and immediately after the Second World War. Her finest works—her paintings of modern life rendered in a style uniquely her own—deserve far more attention than they have received. Her innovative crowd scenes, delicate wildflowers, and complex interior compositions all testify to her skill in capturing the scene around her wherever she lived.”