Keep­sakes of Con­flict an emo­tional dis­play of bat­tle­field items


The Keep­sakes of Con­flict ex­hi­bi­tion on dis­play at the Art Gallery of Swift Cur­rent shares an emo­tional glimpse into trans­formed in­stru­ments of war that have been hand­crafted as ex­quis­ite ob­jects meant for the home.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which re­mains on dis­play un­til De­cem­ber 30, is a poignant con­nec­tion to those who ex­pe­ri­enced the hor­rors of bat­tle who still found a way to trans­form weapons and mu­ni­tions into keep­sakes.

Ju­lia Krueger led a tour of the ex­hi­bi­tion dur­ing a pub­lic re­cep­tion of Novem­ber 23. She shared some in­sights into not only the ma­te­ri­als the dis­play items were made of, but also some his­tory of those that brought them back. The ex­hi­bi­tion is or­ga­nized by the Moose Jaw Mu­seum and Art Gallery.

“So what we didn’t want to do was to cre­ate an ex­hi­bi­tion that used these ob­jects as a way to il­lus­trate great bat­tles over the years. While this is im­por­tant, and I don’t want to dis­credit how im­por­tant this is to know this his­tory, it can be found in a va­ri­ety of other ar­eas. And we were want­ing to find a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to this sub­ject mat­ter, one that pro­motes em­pa­thy and con­sid­er­a­tion. One that helps you to start to look at ob­jects and be able to un­der­stand some­thing from those ob­jects. What do these ob­jects tell you about this time in his­tory?” Krueger said dur­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion on Novem­ber 23.

The keep­sakes in­cluded sou­venir can­dle­stick hold­ers, vases, wo­ven belts, desk sets, a jew­elry box, ash­trays, and a tea set crafted from shell cases from Bri­tish and French ar­tillery.

The items also pro­vided a chance to think about the in­di­vid­ual who owned them, and those crafts­men and sol­diers who made them dur­ing a time of war.

“To give you a sense of what it was like to be in­volved in armed con­flict, or to em­pathize with those that were in­volved. And how craft­ing could be used to cope with this dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.”

A few of the items on dis­play could truly be con­sid­ered as Trench Art, but other pieces were mass pro­duced be­cause they ap­pear in a num­ber of dif­fer­ence col­lec­tions.

“We adopted a very open def­i­ni­tion of trench art, one that in­cludes any type of maker and any type of ob­ject as long as it some how re­lates to armed con­flict,” she ex­plained.

The col­lec­tion also con­tains a Red Cross quilt which speaks to the labour and sac­ri­fice made on the home front by women. It con­tains the names of sol­diers who served, the women who worked on the quilt, and those who do­nated to the fundraiser.

“Dur­ing the war, women played a vi­tal yet of­ten un-recorded role on the home front, and these quilts serve as ‘stitched his­tory’ of that labour, which to me is re­ally ex­cit­ing be­cause it starts to com­pli­cate that dom­i­nant, pa­tri­ar­chal nar­ra­tive that we of­ten see in his­tory.”

One of the items in the col­lec­tion is a small match case was made of sal­vaged alu­minum, as Ger­mans were early adopters of alu­minum dur­ing World War I in their ar­tillery and air­planes. It is strik­ingly en­graved with the names of a se­ries of in­flu­en­tial Cana­dian bat­tles in­clud­ing the Bat­tle of the Somme, Vimy, and Ypres.

She ex­plained that in Jan­uary 3, 1916, 18 year old as­sis­tant post mas­ter Harry Franklin Ritz signed his at­tes­ta­tion pa­pers in Lacombe, AB, declar­ing he would serve in Cana­dian over­seas force. By Novem­ber he was in the trenches on the front line at the Bat­tle of the Somme.

The sim­ple alu­minum match case be­longed to him, and Krueger asked those in at­ten­dance at the pub­lic re­cep­tion to close their eyes and pic­ture them­selves as teenagers.

“Just imag­ine your 18-yearold self there,” she asked.

She noted this was the fo­cus of the ex­hi­bi­tion, with vis­i­tors asked to see be­yond the fin­ished prod­uct and think about the ma­te­ri­als they were crafted from and of the sol­diers who sought them out.

“They are made from ma­te­ri­als of war. Ma­te­ri­als that were at one point de­signed and made to kill, maim and ex­plode.”

“When I think about Ritz carv­ing his name into this piece of Ger­man alu­minum, I can’t help but em­pathise with him.”


Ju­lia Krueger led a tour of the Keep­sakes of Con­flict at the Art Gallery of Swift Cur­rent on Novem­ber 23. The col­lec­tion is on dis­play un­til the end of 2018.

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