My interest in the Explosion began in my graduating year at NSCAD (1980-81). I was reading Warden of the North by Thomas Raddell, and was inspired to use local history as a narrative for my work.
For my graduation show History in the Making I used construction material from the restoration of Historic Properties to create painted constructions about the history of Halifax, Belgian Relief. In 1986 after buying my house on Bloomfield Street in the North End, I became incredibly interested in how my space had been affected by the Halifax Explosion, discovering artifacts while renovating and gleaning information from the archives. I discovered how close my house had come to total destruction. I did a constructed piece using found objects and materials from the renovation of my home — Harmonica, 1986 – 2017.
These constructions led me to Explosion School Girls and Daybreak, both constructed using historical photos as reference and found glass for the building of the pieces.
My pieces are narrative in the use of iconic imagery but also use techniques of Dadaist and cubist assemblage. The use of found glass and objects in the work direct the viewer to be aware of the great destruction and loss of life.
I found it difficult to navigate the idea of commemorating such a tragic event.
I wanted to avoid the sentiment or the horror of it. I paid a couple of visits to the Nova Scotia Archives researching it and decided to find a way of stepping back, both figuratively and emotionally.
This led me to thinking about the experience of being “outside” of it and that led to conceiving of it topographically — looking down on it from above, like a melancholic map, documenting the enormity and scale of the event. There are relics in the the old lost gloves, irony in the dynamite and scale in the more graphic works.
Jane Reigh depicts Richmond during the Halifax Explosion.
I knew I wanted to focus on the children who lived through the Explosion. Or didn’t. This painting is meant to be a small memorial to them.
I wanted to show Richmond as it was on that Dec. morning: exploding. I could not find a panoramic view of Richmond from the water so I pieced together many other images of landmark buildings. I used maps, Nova Scotia Archive images, postcard images, Janet Kitz’s various publications and a CBC film clip of animated ships colliding in the Narrows.
It was a cold but sunny day in Halifax on December 6, 1917. I thought about the sun rising, the golden colour of the buildings on the shorefront. I read about the children running to school or watching their brothers and sisters leave; noticing the burning ship and being so excited. Some stood and watched. Some ran to tell friends. Some ran after the fire trucks.
When I finished painting the city I painted in the burning Mont-Blanc. Then I exploded it all. I took linseed oil and poured it over the still-wet painting. Oil dissolved the buildings I had just painted. It carried the colours up and into the sky.
The small canvases are meant to represent the windows that the children were looking out — looking down on the Harbour and that exciting burning ship. I chose children who had stories. Some survived the explosion. Some did not. I painted them. And then I poured the oil on them too. I did not let the oil dissolve the children. I wanted to keep the excitement they felt watching that blue sunny morning and that fire.
Jane Reagh knew she wanted to focus on the children who lived through the Explosion and those who did not.
As an artist who loves working site-specifically using indexical techniques, I was interested in using materials that, to this day, remain from the Explosion and link us to the event. I focused my investigations on the steel fragments from the Mont-Blanc. I visited the Halifax Explosion artifacts at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and was compelled by how the steel fragments had twisted, folded and fractured. In the 100 years since this event, metal fragments and artifacts continue to surface and be discovered, proving that this disaster is still embedded in our city.
Fraction records various artifacts from the freighter, the Mont-Blanc, including warped steel and several parts of the shattered anchor. The frottage rubbings become an abstract representation of these steel artifacts. Printed on site at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, amongst other sites in Halifax, this work utilizes the process of frottage to record the sculpted, torn and fragmented steel remnants of the French vessel. Paper was wrapped delicately around these artifacts before a thin application of ink was applied directly to the paper using a brayer.
The resulting printed impressions are abstracted and textural recordings of an event that is forever embedded in our city. They focus on texture and line to reference the original objects that include numerous fragments from the anchor of the Mont-Blanc and an unidentified piece of marine-grade steel.