Art for War and Peace: How a Great Public Art Project Helped Canada Discover Itself is the amazing story of the largest public art project in Canadian history: the Sampson-Matthews print program.
The program began as wartime propaganda during WWII and lasted into the 1960s. It cost tens of millions of dollars. The bright silkscreens hung in every school, library, bank and dentist’s office from Whitehorse to St. John’s, shaping Canadians’ ideas about art — and their vast homeland.
Art for War and Peace tells the remarkable story of the prints, with full-colour reproductions of more than a hundred silkscreens and contributions from several art writers, including Douglas Coupland.
The idea that launched the project was simple. Get Canada’s best painters to contribute to the war effort by creating new works, guided by the National Gallery. Toronto-based printer Sampson-Matthews would turn these into high-quality silkscreens, which would then be sent to every military unit and government office from Britain to Ceylon, and across the home front from coast to coast. As a result, the silkscreens were based on designs by a who’s who of Canada’s greatest artists, including David Milne, Emily Carr, B.C. Binning, Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, Tom Thomson, J.W. Morrice and Clarence Gagnon.
The images were so popular that the program went into overdrive after the war. The landscapes became familiar backdrops for two generations of Canadians. The program was a grandiose exercise in art education, and a coming together of culture, commerce and patriotism that only a world war could ever create.