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Women Making Shells: Marking Women’s Presence in the Munitions Work 1914–1918: The Art of Frances Loring, Florence Wyle, Mabel May, and Dorothy Stevens
In 1915, while working as a volunteer in a munitions factory canteen, Canadian artist Florence Carlyle described the munitions factory in letters to her family as a “systematized hell.” However, the atmosphere of the factory made a deep impression on her, for she continued; “what a picture for an artist...an artist with a fifty foot canvas and tubs of paint.”
This paper will focus on the art commissioned from Canadian women artists during the First World War by the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF), and specifically upon art which depicts the subject of women working in Canadian munitions factories. These works of painting, sculpture and printmaking were executed by four of Canada's premier women artists: Frances Loring (1887–1968), Florence Wyle (1881–1968), Henrietta Mabel May (1884–1971), and Dorothy Stevens (1888–1966) between 1918 and 1920. These commissions garnered significant critical acclaim, and were hailed as among the most successful works in the Canadian War Memorials (CWM) exhibitions that toured between 1919 and 1924. The art created by these women not only forms the nucleus of official war art by Canadian women artists during the First World War, but is also significant as powerful expressions of Canadian home front activity during the war. This paper will examine this artistic production with consideration of the social context of the time, and in the light of the contemporary critical reception.
Butlin, Susan "Women Making Shells: Marking Women’s Presence in the Munitions Work 1914–1918: The Art of Frances Loring, Florence Wyle, Mabel May, and Dorothy Stevens." Canadian Military History 5, 1 (1996)