BANFF – Elise Findlay didn’t have much experience studying Canada’s role in war and conflict.
When the Banff-based artist saw an application from the Canadian War Museum come out for its first-ever artist-in-residency for female emerging artists, she wasn’t sure if it applied to her.
But as she walked through her family home at various times, Findlay kept looking at her grandfather’s war medals – which hang on a wall – she began to see a greater connection in her life to war and conflict.
“I just kept walking by them and the application kept coming up. It almost wouldn’t leave me alone,” she said. “In the process of thinking how war and conflict relate to me as a person as well as an artist, the more I thought about it I started to realize we all have connections to conflict.”
After sending in her application in the fall, Findlay was officially announced Jan. 29 from a pool of roughly 60 artists from across Canada to take up the inaugural role.
The 12-week residency will be completed remotely and provide Findlay access to the war museum’s artifact archives in creating her work. The submission for the residency involved a proposal for work, examples of previous work and interviews for candidates.
Findlay said her work will feature material and how people connect with war and conflict through objects. In previous work, she has used material and pulled out individual threads of clothing material in a time-consuming and labour-intensive process.
For her work with the exhibit, she plans to use satin to represent the 1800s, military uniform material for the two world wars and denim to show the Cold War era.
“It’s through those objects we connect with our history or to the experiences of others that we may not have a connection otherwise,” she said. “It was really my emphasis on material culture and using the objects for pulling up objects from within the larger exhibition and using elements of the existing work and transforming those elements into new artwork that I think helped me stand out.”
The upcoming Outside the Lines exhibition will look at how female artists have evolved in showing themes of war and conflict by looking at their work from the 19th Century to the present day. It will run from May 23 to Jan. 5, 2025, and Findlay’s work will be towards the end of the exhibition to allow people to reflect on what they’ve seen.
The exhibit will feature artist’s perspectives of conflict that will link their stories to the artwork they created. Among the works being explored are Paraskeva Clark, Joyce Wieland, Gertrude Kearns, Daphne Odjig, Molly Lamb Bobak and Rosalie Favell.
One potential work for Findlay is to reflect Lamb Bobak’s famous 1944 piece Gas Drill, which is a painting of women trying on gas masks during a Second World War training drill. Findlay said she hopes to recreate a replica of gas masks using fiber.
“I’m hoping those recreations will get the viewer to reflect back on what they’ve seen within the exhibition and also to think about how we connect to other people’s stories often through the objects,” Findlay said.
With the first such residency, Findlay said she’s been working with war museum staff to figure out the best steps for the residency.
“No pressure,” she said laughing when asked what it meant to be the first person to have the residency.
“As an emerging artist, this is huge for me to be able to show in a space that’s as prestigious as the war museum to do work that’s not different from the work that I regularly do. The processes are the same, but it’s an avenue I would not have necessarily chosen for myself. I haven’t explored ideas around war and conflict, so it’s really opened up a whole new avenue of concepts to explore.”
Findlay graduated with distinction in 2023 from the Alberta University of the Arts. She was honoured with the prestigious Board of Governors award and has had her work featured at the Leighton Arts Centre in Calgary, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and artsPlace.
Findlay is a long-time member of Banff’s public art committee and was selected as its chair late last year.
“Findlay distinguished herself through her work that delves into the exploration of community, place, identity, and the intricacies of human interaction with the world,” stated a release from the war museum. “She aspires to further her artistic journey by pursuing a master’s degree in fine art, while also establishing a studio in her hometown of Banff.”
Findlay’s personal connection to the Canadian military comes through her grandfather, Hugh Baldwin Hall, who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, with the Stormont Dundas Glengarry Highlanders. As a 22-year-old Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Hall served through the Normandy campaign, the battles of northeastern France and liberating The Netherlands.
He was awarded the Military Cross by British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, the commander of 21st Army Group, in summer 1944.
“His experiences really affected his entire family. We’re immensely proud of what he did, but it does still reverberate through our family. … I don’t know how you can go through those experiences and not be impacted by it and not have it impact your other relationships,” she said.
Though not having directly studied war and conflict, Findlay said it has a role in shaping each individual in some capacity.
“It’s part of all of our lives, whether direct or indirect. … I’m so inspired by the work that war artists have done and the bravery they’ve shown, especially some of the artists that have gone to conflict zones and documented the experiences. It’s a little intimidating but very inspiring.
“I hope my work can help other Canadians who have had similar experiences like myself who led relatively sheltered and privileged lives to connect with our history of foreign conflict and get interested in learning more about Canada’s role and Canada’s military role in the world.”