Wall decal text: Witnessing War. This year marks 150 years since the birth of Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918). An esteemed doctor, soldier and poet, McCrae is remembered for his wartime poem "In Flanders Fields," which he wrote from the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, around 3 May 1915. Although the poet McCrae is often celebrated, this exhibition takes a closer look at his graphite and ink drawings. McCrae was a keen observer of people and places. Over his lifetime, he wrote dozens of poems and created countless drawings, offering an impression of his inner solitude. Shaped and inspired by McCrae's creative expressions, Witnessing War features works by local and national artists, spanning 100 years of art as a salve to war. The exhibition includes art works made in response to the six global conflicts in which Canada has fought, and also considers responsive works by local artists who pictorialize, explore, and return to themes of human conflict in their art.
Introductory text about the Witnessing War exhibit at Guelph Civic Museum (photo by Amy Moffat)
Oil painting on canvas, with wooden frame. Subject is an airman from R.C.A.F. wireless school in Guelph, 1942. Man is seated with leather cap and googles on his head. He is wearing a gray military jumpsuit and holding a pair of gloves. He is looking directly at the viewer. Yellow plaque at bottom of frame reads: Wireless Air Gunner by Evan Macdonald. The subject of the portrait is an airman who took the wireless course at No. 4 Wireless School, R.C.A.F. Guelph. The portrait was purchased by the members of the 1944-45 Short Course.
Painting of George Sydney Smith the Air Gunner by Evan Macdonald 1942 (photo by Amy Moffat)

The art produced during times of conflict is the subject of an exhibit at the Guelph Civic Museum. Witnessing War invites gallery visitors to engage with a multitude of art forms created during Canada’s participation in six global struggles, and includes paintings, photographs, drawings and poetry.

              One piece in particular symbolizes the local impact of World War II. The oil on canvas painting The Air Gunner (1942) by Guelph artist Evan Macdonald is a portrait of 19 year old George Sydney Smith who was enrolled at the R.C.A.F. wireless school.  Macdonald was a professionally trained artist who made countless sketches and paintings of Guelph and area from the 1920s through the 1960s. During WWII the Ontario Agricultural College campus (now the University of Guelph) was, after much local resistance, the temporary home of a military school for training in radio communications and cooking. Macdonald’s portrait captures the young recruit in a quiet, almost tender moment, and does not convey the typical esthetic of the indestructible solider.

              Witnessing War is a commemoration of 150 years since the birth of Lt. Col. John McCrae, another Guelph soldier and artist, arguably the city’s most famous inhabitant. With a walk through the exhibit, one is given a window into the many creative interpretations of war and its impact on Canadians.

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