A lasting impression
Fundraiser to celebrate Arthur Lismer and Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury
About a decade ago the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum came into possession of lithographs from a member of Canada’s famed Group of Seven painters.
Those lithographs, including seven by Arthur Lismer, will be displayed prominently in an Amherst Area Heritage Trust fundraiser, An Evening of Art and War: Arthur Lismer Comes to Town, on Friday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury.
“It’s an evening to celebrate the work of Lismer and this building that we’re working diligently to save,” trust director and fundraising co-chairman Dale Davis said.
Davis said the evening, which was the winner of the ‘A’ Fresh Start competition hosted by the Town of Amherst, will feature guest speakers talking about Lismer’s work and those of other war artists as well as music of the First World War era and refreshments. There will also be tours of the regimental museum and a silent auction.
Featured prominently will be the lithographs, including one by another war artist - Charles William Jefferys.
The event is being sponsored by the Town of Amherst and the sea cadets corps.
“We’re hoping we’ll get a good turnout from the art community in Amherst and Sackville, N.B. as well as from people interested in war and military history,” Davis said.
Lismer was president of the Victoria College of Art, now known as the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, from 1916-19. He was inspired by the activity in Halifax Harbour during the First World War, most notably the dazzle camouflaged ships. His work came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, who arranged for Lismer to be commissioned as an official war artist.
He would eventually become a founding member of the Group of Seven.
“He was fascinated by the dazzle ships that would come into Halifax harbour. They were painted that way to confuse the enemy submarines,” John Wales, of the regimental museum, said. “He made some colour paintings of them and one of them came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook. He used his influence with the federal government to name him an official war artist and he was commissioned to do work around Halifax Harbour.”
The lithographs had added meaning to heritage trust member Vivienne Hudson, who’s great-aunt succeeded Lismer as the president of the College of Art.
“My great-aunt, Elizabeth Styring Nutt, was a very good friend of Lismer’s. He was the president of the College of Art and when he left she was asked to become the director.”
It was after Lismer left that the college was renamed.
Ray Coulson, curator of the museum that’s located inside the 104-year-old armoury, said the lithographs were found by an Amherst war veteran, who saved them from the garbage bin and brought them to the museum.
“He basically saw them in a bin that was being thrown out. He saw the soldiers in them and thought I’d be interested in them,” Coulson said. “He gave them to me and I put them in storage. I really didn’t know what they were at first, but when we later pulled them out I saw the names Lismer and Jefferys and knew we had to do something.”
Doing something was taking the lithographs to an art professor at Mount Allison University, who was very familiar with the work of Lismer. Coulson said he was told the lithographs are valuable, but he would not specify how valuable – only that he was advised to put them in museum standard frames that would protect them from things like open air, heat and humidity.
Leslie Childs, president of Amherst Area Heritage Trust, said it’s rare for this art to be in Amherst.
“You couldn’t buy something like this, there just aren’t many of these around,” Childs said.
She said it’s an example of why the armoury needs to be saved.
“The number of people who passed through this building show how this community and the Maritimes were a huge contributor to the war effort in both the First and Second World War,” Childs said.
“The people who walked through these doors, some of them came home with wounds and some didn’t come home at all. I can’t understand how the federal government can abandon this building and say it’s only worthy of being torn down.”
The armoury building, built in 1915 and named for Canada’s defence minister during the Second World War, remains in limbo as the Department of National Defence has been declared surplus and was set for divestiture in July 2017 before MP Bill Casey and the defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, intervened to stop the process.
Amherst Heritage Trust is heading the local effort to save the armoury building that is used by three cadet corps and is home to the military museum.
John Wales from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum discusses an Arthur Lismer lithograph with Amherst Area Heritage Trust members Dale Davis and Jennifer Cameron. Amherst Area Heritage Trust will be showcasing the museum’s lithographs during An Evening of Art and War: Arthur Lismer Comes to Town, on Nov. 16.