By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer
An exhibition showing how Canada used art to document the First World War opens Friday evening at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in downtown Sarnia.Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War is a travelling exhibition from the Canadian War Museum, on display at the public gallery through Jan. 7, alongside an exhibition of local war artifacts from the Lambton Heritage Museum and Plympton-Wyoming Museum.

The travelling exhibition includes more than 50 works of art by ordinary soldiers and official war artists, including future Group of Seven members A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley.

Curator Lisa Daniels said the exhibition is divided into four sections, Canadians at War, Landscapes of War, Ruins of War and Tools of War.

“When the First World War started, media was very different,” she said.

Getting information home to Canada from overseas could take a long time, compared to today.

Daniels said that was part of the reason why Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian newspaper owner and a political figure in Britain, started the war art program “so there could be a record of what was happening overseas,” and Canada’s involvement in the war.

The art was also used for propaganda and recruitment and the exhibition offers viewers is “a sense of what maybe Lord Beaverbrook and other politicians wanted the message to be for the people back home,” Daniels said.

On one wall of the exhibition a portrait of Victoria Cross winner Sgt. T. W. Holmes hangs next to a poster promoting the sale of victory bonds.

“I get goosebumps with it,” Daniels said about the look in Holmes’ eyes, “after experiencing battle,” shown in the portrait by Ernest Fosbery.

“It looks pretty different than the propaganda poster.”

The gallery is also offering guided tours and a lecture series during the exhibition.

Running with the visiting art, is an exhibition assistant curator Sonya Blazek said provides a “fresh look” at an earlier Lambton at War exhibition from the county’s Heritage Museum, as well as items from the Plympton-Wyoming.

“It looks at the contribution Lambton made to the First World War,” she said.

It includes the uniform of Edward “Ned” McRobie, the three-year-old son of Petrolia’s mayor who served as the mascot of the 149th battalion formed of recruits from Lambton County.

McRobie became known as the youngest drummer boy in the Commonwealth and travelled with his parents on recruiting drives.

Postcards of McRobie photographed in his uniform were sold for 10 cents each to raise money for the families of soldiers.

Later, he donated the uniform to the county museum.

Blazek said gallery and museum officials believe there are stories still to be uncovered in the community about its connection to the First World War, so residents are being encouraged to share them during the exhibition.

On Fridays in October, Stop and Share sessions will be held at gallery from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. where residents will be invited to bring in photos and documents to be scanned, or have military medals or other items photographed and included in the county collection.

“As well, we have audio stations set up,” she said.

Residents who may remember a family story from the war can record it for the county museum.

Both exhibitions open at the gallery Friday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as part of the downtown First Friday event.

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