Photo: Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary
Bev Tosh captures the essence of what it is to be a war bride in 75 portraits on large wooden panels and four large works on canvas. These are paintings of the brides, just as they started on life’s biggest journeys, not just across oceans and cultures, but also into adulthood and married life. There is a certain power in her work, and a resignation in the women’s eyes that speaks to the acceptance of a less than certain future. The colours in the four-foot-high by one-foot-wide panels are sepia and have a veiled quality reminiscent of the parachute silk many of these women were married in. The wood grain shows clearly through the oils, adding to the warmth of the work.
The artist is the daughter of a war bride, but unlike the thousands of women who came to Canada from England and Europe, her Canadian mother moved to New Zealand to join the Kiwi serviceman she met and married on our prairies during World War II. In 1957,when Tosh was nine, her mother left the marriage and New Zealand to return home to Saskatoon. Back in Canada, the artist pursued an education in the arts, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology and Fine Arts) from the University of Saskatchewan, a Painting Diploma from the Alberta College of Art and a Masters of Fine Art (Painting) from the University of Calgary. She has taught at both Alberta institutions.
This May, the Canadian War Museum is opening a new exhibition of Tosh’s work titled War Brides: Portraits of an Era. It includes panels, canvases–including a portrait of her mother–multimedia exhibits, sepia photographs and audio. The museum is inviting war brides and their families to view the exhibit on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2007. The exhibition runs until Jan. 6, 2008.
I asked the artist if this body of work was complete, and what her future plans were. She told me, “I do plan to broaden out and continue to work in other subjects, but I plan to continue this as well. I started over six years ago, and felt the urgency of this…. I was teaching at the time, one had to go and I knew which one…. It continues, and that is the thing that surprises me. As an artist you know that you get into a project, but as it ends it becomes work, not this. I kept thinking I would be lucky to get a dozen on wood, but there are 75 done, and I have a hundred in my mind.”
Perhaps part of the power of her work is in its subjects, after all, they are our mothers.
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Many of the Canadian War Museum’s holdings are available in reproduction at affordable prices. For more information, contact Image Reproduction Services, Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa, ON K1R 0C2; tel: 1-819-776-8686; fax: 1-819-776-8623; e-mail: Imageservices@warmuseum.ca