Witness attracted more than 6,000 patrons over more than four months at the JNAAG
After 128 days, 48 guided tours and more than 6,000 visitors, the travelling Witness exhibition bid farewell to Sarnia this week.
Sunday was the last tour of the travelling Canadian War Museum collection of First-World-War-era paintings, including some by eventual Group of Seven artists A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley.
“Certainly with the centennial World War I exhibition there was a lot of interest” from schools, said Sonya Blazek, assistant curator with the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.
The gallery is “very happy” with the number of students, and from the general public, she said, who took in the 50-plus works by ordinary soldiers and official war artists in the Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War exhibition.
It showed at the Sarnia gallery starting Sept. 1, alongside the Lambton At War exhibition from the Lambton Heritage Museum.
Continuing until Feb. 4, that includes deeper looks at Lambton’s contribution to the Great War, including colours of the 149th Battalion that recruited soldiers from the county and replenished front-line units after shipping out in March, 2017.
It also has touchscreen maps where people can see how many soldiers served from individual neighbourhoods, and a station where visitors were invited to write post cards to veterans, Blazek said.
The gallery sent 168 to various Sarnia-Lambton Royal Canadian Legion branches over the recent Christmas holidays, she said.
Taking in one of the last Witness tours Sunday was Grade 7 Hanna Memorial student Adam Hurst and his family.
He’d visited the exhibition with his school in December, he said.
“So he’s been kind of educating us on what he learned when he went,” said his mom Becki Codling-Hurst.
A standout for him, Hurst said, is the portrait of Victoria Cross recipient Sgt. Thomas William Holmes, by war artist Ernest Fosbery.
Holmes, a 147th Battalion member, lied about his age when he enlisted at 17. He received the prestigious honour two years later.
Holmes’ portrait also shared the stage with a group of singing docents who led tour groups and engaged patrons in song.
“It was an imagined story of him going through the war and then finally coming home on that ship,” said docent Dianne Moore about a musical tour of seven paintings the docents conducted, while gesturing to the nearby Lismer “Olympic with Returned Soldiers,” painted in 1919.
There were period songs for each piece in the tale, she said.
“People sang and really got into the whole spirit,” said the retired elementary school teacher and three-year volunteer at the gallery.
“People were really moved by this exhibit,” she added.
“Many people had stories from their family that they could share on the second floor with the setup that the museum did. And then they’d come up here and it would bring back stories they heard from their fathers about their grandfather who had been in the war.
“So it touched people in an emotional way.”
Hopefully, the singing docents continue on with other exhibitions, Blazek said
“It seems to be a favourite,” she said, noting their tours were always fully booked.
Witness is scheduled to appear next at the Military Museum in Calgary starting Feb. 3.
By Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer