Joining the CWACs in WW2, Molly Lamb was sent overseas to paint the soldiers and the aftermath of the war. Prolific, Lamb Bobak’s paintings are Canadian treasures.
“It was the humanity I tried to capture in my paintings,” said Molly Lamb Bobak in a past article about her wartime artistic involvement entitled, “I Love the Army”. And capture the humanity she did, with people dotting her paintings by thoughtful ones and twos, and then in thrumming crowds, paintings of crushed European buildings, official and casual army gatherings, and captured equipment in the war-torn settings.
Joining the Canadian Women’s Army Corps after graduation from the Vancouver School of Art in 1942, the young and single Molly Lamb worked washing floors and serving soldiers at the military Canteen in the Vancouver, BC barracks. Transferred to Toronto, she spent her time designing military variety show sets and costumes. As a CWAC private, she was able to see highs and lows of war and put them into perspective in a diary – one constructed like a newspaper page with headlines, news blurbs, volume number and illustrations. The “newspaper” art was created by Molly “in a variety of media, mostly pencil, pen, ink, watercolor and charcoal,” said Jennifer Morse of Legion Magazine in the January 1, 1996 issue, and “are referred to in the text as ‘authentic flash pictures’”.
First Female Canadian War Artist
Her paintings led her to third prize in a Canadian Army Art Exhibition in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada in 1944, and then to a promotion from Private Lamb to 2nd Lieutenant Lamb, the first woman to be designated a War Artist in Canada. Safe on home soil during the War, Molly was sent overseas to Holland when ceasefire was called in 1945, to capture the fresh post-war images. “When I did go overseas I saw a lot of flattened and burned out buildings… I think the best thing I got out of those years was the terrific feeling I have for my own country and the wonderful people who live in it,” commented Lamb Bobak in Legion Magazine.
Lamb Bobak Returned to Europe
While overseas, Molly met fellow Canadian War Artist Bruno Bobak. Returning to Canada in 1946, Molly and Bruno married, making their home in Vancouver. The Bobaks had one son, Alex, in 1946 and Anny, in 1957, and both continued their art careers. Molly taught at the Vancouver School of Art and University of British Columbia, Bruno was busy painting. In 1960, a scholarship was given to Molly from the French Government and a grant from the Canada Council, enabling her to return to Europe for several months of artistic immersion. Her husband received a similar grant at the same time.
Molly Lamb Bobak in New Brunswick
In the same year, the Bobaks pulled up stakes and left the west coast for Fredericton, New Brunswick on the east coast. The University of New Brunswick’s Art Centre hired Molly, while Bruno became the University’s artist-in-residence. Molly kept her position until 1967. (The Bobaks continue to live in Fredericton.)
Floral Compositions, Crowds of People
The central theme of Molly Lamb Bobak’s art has been flowers and crowds of people. “These themes have allowed her to explore the things she feels most strongly about,” said Artists for Kids, those things being “paint, composition and the dynamics of moving human form.” Her first book, Wild Flowers of Canada: Impressions and Sketches of a Field Artist, exhibited her skill with watercolours. Later works include illustrations for two children’s books, Toes in My Nose and Merry-Go-Day. The diaries created by Molly reminiscent of newspaper pages were published in book form by Dundurn Press in 1992 as Double Duty: Sketches and diaries of Molly Lamb Bobak, Canadian War Artist. Molly also had a short career on tv in the 1950s, sharing her knowledge and skill in drawing and painting on CBC television.
Born in Vancouver, BC in 1922, Molly Lamb’s father was Harold Mortimer-Lamb, Canadian geologist, photographer and art critic. Her childhood home was an artistic place, filled with the likes of famous artist AY Jackson and others. Her mother, Alice Mary Price, was a business woman, operating a resort on Galiano Island on the west coast. Recognized for her immense talent, Molly received honourary degrees from several universities. Honoured with the Order of Canada in 1996, she also received the provincial Order of New Brunswick in 2002. She is a member of a number of art societies and her work is shown in prominent galleries such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Canada, as well as others across Canada.
Prolific in her beautiful paintings and striking sketches of the Second World War, Molly Lamb submitted over 400 art pieces during her term as official War Artist from 1945 to 1946.
This article was first published on Suite101.com in 2009. © Susanna McLeod