Molly Joan Bobak, née Lamb, CM, ONB, RCA, artist, teacher (born 25 February 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 1 March 2014 in Fredericton, NB). Molly Lamb Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942. In 1945, she became the first woman to be named an official Canadian war artist. She led workshops across Canada, gave live art lessons on television and served on many boards and arts councils. She was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received honorary degrees from the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1995 and to the Order of New Brunswick in 2002.
Early Years and Education
Molly Lamb Bobak was born on Lulu Island (now Richmond), just south of Vancouver, to Harold Mortimer Lamb and Alice Mary Price. Her father’s activities as an art critic and collector (he was friends with Emily Carr and members of the Group of Seven) and her mother’s love of gardening and the beauty of nature seemed to predetermine Molly’s career in the visual arts.
Molly Lamb met her mentor, Jack L. Shadbolt, while she was a student at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) from 1938 to 1941. Shadbolt’s influence remained strong throughout her career.
Molly Lamb joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942 and spent three years “just begging to be a war artist.” Through the intervention of family friend A.Y. Jackson and Harry McCurry (the director of the National Gallery of Canada), she was appointed an official Canadian war artist in 1945. She was the only woman to receive such a distinction. It was through this work that she met her husband, Bruno Bobak, who at 21 was Canada’s youngest war artist during the Second World War.
Following the war and her marriage, Molly and Bruno Bobak returned to Vancouver. She taught at the Vancouver School of Art and began to work in radio and television, for which she showed a particular aptitude.
She received a Canada Council Fellowship to study in Europe. However, her overseas study was interrupted by her husband’s appointment as artist-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in the fall of 1960. The couple relocated to Fredericton, where Molly Bobak continued to give workshops at UNB and across Canada. She taught art classes and resumed her television work, offering live art lessons. She also served on many boards and arts councils, including with the National Film Board, the Stamp Design Council, the National Capital Commission and the National Gallery Advisory Board.
Work as an Artist
Molly Lamb Bobak’s body of work can be divided into two categories: her elegantly limpid watercolours of flowers with their oriental sparseness; and her expressionist oil paintings, which offer celebratory affirmations of the ordinary events of our lives. She was subject to myriad influences. Her rootedness in the organic and her gestural application of pigment ally her closely to the British Neo-Romantic school, and by extension to the work of such Scottish artists as Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley and Anne Redpath.
Bobak’s works are included in collections across Canada, including at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Her illustrated diaries were published by Dundurn Press in 1992 under the title, Double Duty: Sketches and Diaries of Molly Lamb Bobak, Canadian War Artist. She also illustrated children’s books, including Sheree Fitch’s Toes in My Nose.
Honours and Awards
In 1993, the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina mounted a major travelling retrospective of Molly Lamb Bobak’s work. The exhibition’s curator, Cindy Richmond, said of Bobak, “Each one of her paintings reveals something unique and personal as seen through her eyes. They are celebratory in their beauty. There is nothing pretentious about her work. Her authenticity is a large part of her work.”
Bobak was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received honorary degrees from UNB (1983), Mount Allison University (1984) and St. Thomas University (1994). She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1995 and to the Order of New Brunswick in 2002.
See also: Documenting the Second World War; Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund; Art and the Great War; Documenting Canada’s Great War; Artists’ Organizations.