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Review

Last Dance in Shediac: Memories of Mum, Molly Lamb Bobak

By Anny Scoones

December 17, 2015

Review By Maria Tippett

This is a very peculiar book. Although its subject is an artist, the Vancouver-born painter Molly Lamb Bobak, the first female war artist in Canada, there is little about Bobak’s art.

Molly Bobak did much more than record the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) during the closing days of the Second World War. Working largely in the watercolour medium she painted exquisite “portraits” of flowers and crowds. I would have expected a book about Bobak to compare her affinity with the flower painter Winifred Nicholson, whose work Bobak would have encountered when she and her painter-husband, Bruno, lived in England during the 1950s. I would have expected the author to compare Bobak’s stick-like figures to the oil paintings of another English painter, L.S. Lowry. And indeed, to tell us about Bobak’s extraordinary father, Harold Mortimer Lamb, whose own paintings, photographs, and above all participation in Vancouver’s cultural life during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s helped build artistic reputations including that of Emily Carr and make culture in British Columbia what it is to this day.

But this book is not about Molly Bobak the artist. As the subtitle of Last Dance in Shediac makes clear, this is Anny Scoones’s recollection of Molly Bobak as a mother. Moreover, on the few occasions when the author ventures into artistic territory, descriptive phrases like “humanistic painting” fall flat (48).

Last Dance in Shediac is annoyingly self-indulgent, but although the author rambles from one subject and from one time frame to another, the book somehow works. This is because the author structures her narrative around road trips made with her mother on both sides of Canada, particularly during the closing years of Molly Bobak’s very long life. Scoones also writes about the tensions that existed between Molly and Bruno. She explores Molly Bobak’s physical decline and her own struggle to broach geographic distances and to cope with nursing homes and all the other things associated with death and dying (Bobak died in 2014 at the age of ninety-four).

Anny Scoones shows, above all, what it was like to be the child of an artist-couple. “Mum and Dad were part of a bigger world than their family. For their art to be honest and free and worthwhile, they had to be open to more than just being paternal or maternal.” “Children of artists and creative thinkers,” she concludes, “must accept this” (147).

Scoones explores all of these themes brilliantly. And anyone who might be disappointed in not learning more about Molly Lamb Bobak the artist will come away from Last Dance in Shediac with something that transcends art.

Last Dance in Shediac: Memories of Mum, Molly Lamb Bobak
Anny Scoones
Victoria: TouchWood Editions 2015. 192pp. $19.95 paper