Former curator continues educating people about war art

Laura Brandon, former curator at the War Museum, is teaching a Learning in Retirement course at Carleton about war art. (Chris Roussakis Photo)

As the curator of war art at the Canadian War Museum, Laura Brandon managed thousands of works in the museum’s collection – but her favourite part of the job was educating visitors.

Even though the Carleton alumnus recently retired, Brandon is continuing to educate others – particularly fellow retirees – in the Learning in Retirement course War Art.

“I was interested in Learning in Retirement because what I enjoyed doing was touring, and taking groups around the art exhibitions,” says Brandon. “I love educating through talking about visual art, and having a conversation about a work of art.”

Brandon’s career with the Canadian War Museum dates back to 1992, and over the years, she has organized more than 30 exhibitions and taught classes in art and history at Carleton University.

She’s also an accomplished author, writing books on the subject such as Art or Memorial? The Forgotten History of Canada’s War Art and Art and War.

Brandon’s interest in war and history has a personal connection – her father was a Canadian army and naval historian, and her family was particularly affected by the First World War.

Her great uncles fought in the war, she says, which impacted the family.

“That event massively affected my great grandmother, who died in 1919,” Brandon says. “I wonder if it was Spanish flu, or the strain of having her sons at war.”

She adds that she enjoys studying war art in particular because it plays a significant role in war history.

“One of the ways you can try to understand who you are, and where you come from, is looking at war art,” Brandon says. “I find that looking at war art answers, and raises, questions that allow us to reflect on who are in the context of history.”

Topics discussed in her class date back to cave paintings from 14,000 BC, and looks at civilizations such as Assyria, Greece and Rome. Participants also learn about art in the First World War’s combatant nations.

“In a funny way, you learn about a wide, wide international history,” says Brandon.

While she is leading the course, Brandon says she is still constantly learning as well.

“I’ve realized that I know very little,” she says. “It stretches my knowledge. It’s not just sharing what I already know – it’s a journey with people.”

Sandra Dyck, director of the Carleton University Art Gallery, says the Learning in Retirement program is an example of how Carleton promotes lifelong learning.

She says the courses being offered this winter feature highly engaged and esteemed lecturers – including Brandon.

“Dr. Laura Brandon, who has just retired from her position as curator of war art at the Canadian War Museum, is a fantastic addition to the (Learning in Retirement) program,” Dyck says. “She has deep knowledge of and passion for war art, and extensive experience in curating ambitious exhibitions. It will be a great privilege for students to learn from Dr. Brandon.”

Brandon will be teaching the course every Friday until Feb. 20, and hopes participants will take away a few messages – including the excitement of learning something new, and creating a conversation about the meaning of war art.

“It’s the enabling of conversation, and the reflection on things that happened to us as human beings,” she says.

This entry was written by Kristy Strauss and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

Kristy Strauss

By Kristy Strauss

Kristy Strauss graduated from Carleton's journalism program in 2009. She is a regular contributor to Carleton Now. She has worked as a reporter for the Kemptville Advance. She currently reports for EMC Ottawa South.

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