While attending the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa in 1995, local artist Elaine Goble was moved to draw the faces of some of the veterans gathered around the National War Memorial.
This November day sparked more than a decade of artistic creation dedicated to portraying people whose lives were forever changed by their experiences during World War II.
Today, 14 of his portraits are on display at the Canadian War Museum in an exhibition titled Homage – The Art of Elaine Goble.
“They were like a long line of old people holding a very heavy story box begging to enter the war museum,” Goble said. “I took a paintbrush and just opened the door for them.”
Each face tells a story and each image is a testament to their service, resilience and deep sacrifice. Among them is a Holocaust survivor, a code breaker, a fighter pilot and a Cree veteran of the Normandy invasion.
Before putting paint on the canvas, Goble will usually spend time with his subjects, taking photos, or just talking.
“I prefer to think of myself more as a columnist,” she said.
Ottawa resident Frances Tippet visited the museum with her family to witness the unveiling of her portrait, titled Washington.
Tippet will turn 99 next month, but as a young woman she served in Washington DC with Canada’s Royal Women’s Navy Service, better known as Wrens.
“It’s a great honor,” Tippet said. “I don’t feel like I did anything in particular other than serve for four years.”
Tippet’s portrait is placed on a graphite rendering of a group of troglodytes, young women with confident expressions and stylish outfits, including new stockings and crisp white shoes.
“It was the right thing to do. My dad was in the military,” Tippet said. “It was a tradition to serve.
Goble asked his subjects to search old photo albums and dusty trunks for valuables that would add meaning to their story.
“I said, what are the treasures, the memories, the talismans?” said Goble. “And they would take out medals and they would take out pictures and they would take out newspaper clippings, and they would just give them to me.”
Another Goble subject, Ernst Frank, saw his childhood cut short when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. At the age of 10, Franks and his neighborhood friends were drafted into the Hitler Youth, and then later in the German army.
“It all went so fast,” he recalls. “It was so desperate. Anyone could see it.”
Until he sat down for his portrait with Goble, Frank had never discussed his experience of war outside of his immediate family. It is now on display in the museum for all to see, alongside portraits of Canadian veterans.
“I think I was very lucky to continue in life and to choose another country, Canada.” he said. “It seemed to be the best of any country, and it still is.”
Watch | Meet the Ottawa artist behind the War Museum’s latest exhibition