Day of Anger an emotional journey for artist
by Tony Saxon
GUELPH — Lyn Westfall was just three months old when her father's Wellington bomber was shot down on a night bombing raid over Germany in 1942.
She never met her father, the 23-year-old navigator on a plane making its third bombing run that night, and he had never met her. In fact, it wasn't until she was in her 60s that she even knew what he looked like.
But the Guelph-based artist is honouring the memory of Flt. Sgt. William F. Lavers and others killed in conflict in L'Histoire, an exhibition of her work on display at Boarding House Arts, better known as the old Guelph Museum.
"I always wanted to do a war painting, but I felt guilty. A daughter of a soldier who's an artist should be doing a war painting, but I didn't have any thoughts and nothing came together," Westfall says of how the collection came about.
It was the 9/11 tragedy in New York that ignited the passion and gave her direction.
Her father's plane took off on its fateful mission on Sept. 10, 1942, and was likely shot down on Sept. 11. The tragedy of that date was now twofold and her work, Dies Irae (Day of Anger) includes names of Royal Canadian Air Force casualties as well as Canadians and others who died in New York on 9/11.
"The coincidality of the dates did it," she says. "It was war repeating itself, only in a different form."
Westfall's work depicts the emotional journey she took in discovering who her father was as well as others killed in conflict.
"It's a painting that is meaningful to me and sadly to many others," Westfall says of Dies Irae, which, due to its depth, size and layering technique took three years to complete.
The finished work is both personal and universal in emotion.
"I'm digging very deep. Way back. So I feel very vulnerable and I'm telling a very personal story," Westfall says. "But it's also one others can relate to. Lots of people have fathers, grandfathers or uncles who they lost."
Other works in the collection feature a strong presence of the children's book character Babar the elephant.
It was looking at a copy of Histoire de Babar in 1986 that started Westfall on her journey to learn more about her father and herself. Those memories were initiated because her father's family had given her a copy of the first Babar book when she was two years old.
"The Babar book began my search into my father's life. I had never had an interest to do that," she says. "Once the door was open, it just wouldn't close. I was insatiable. I had to know more and more."
Plenty of research and some good fortune helped her discover much about her father. She was also able to connect with his only surviving relative, a half-brother, as well as a member of his flight crew who suffered injuries in an earlier flight which prevented him from being on her father's ill-fated mission.
It was that man who showed Westfall a photograph of the flight crew, the first time she had ever laid eyes on her father's face.
Born in Windsor and raised in the Sarnia area. Westfall taught fine art at the university level and later at a Toronto high school for many years. She settled in Guelph two years ago after connecting with the local artistic community following a postgrad art course taken at the University of Guelph.
L'Histoire is on display for the rest of the week at Boarding House Arts and Westfall will be there at 3 p.m. every day.
(This article appeared in the Guelph Mercury Tribune on November 9, 2014)