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.