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Calgarians help artist bring World War One painting to life

A 100-year-old painting is being brought to life in a new light at The Military Museums in Calgary.

John Singer Sargent’s famous painting Gassed depicts soldiers being led to a medical tent after a gas attack during World War One. The painting has not lost its poignancy across the century.

To mark the 100-year anniversary of the first horrible gas attack during a war, the Military Museums is hosting Gassed Redux at The University of Calgary’s Founders’ Gallery, which is located in the museum.

Artist Adad Hannah was invited to create a tableaux vivant, or living picture, based on the original painting.

A section of John Singer Sargent’s painting Gassed. BRODIE THOMAS / For LiveWire Calgary

Gallery curator Lindsey Sharman said this isn’t Hannah’s first tableaux vivant.

“We kind of gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in this space,” said Sharman.

With about 50 volunteers, they created a three-dimensional re-creation of the original painting.

Then some of the volunteers dressed in period uniforms and posed in re-creations of scenes from the painting.

“If you think about the painting, it’s like ripping it into strips and cutting it apart, and then we focused on details throughout this,” said Sharman.

Still and moving Images captured by Hannah will be projected onto the three dimensional centerpiece.

Volunteers are placed in position in preparation for a half-hour long modeling session, where they remain mostly still. BRODIE THOMAS / For LiveWire Calgary

Hannah said he enjoys the challenge of creating a tableaux vivant.

“They can be difficult, but it’s quite exciting to work on,” he said.

Although much planning was done, the bulk of the work with volunteers is being completed over 12 days in the run-up to this Friday’s launch.

The original painting featured young men, but Hannah has welcomed all volunteers to his tableaux vivant.

“Here it’s people at all stages of life, all ethnicities,” said Hanna. “That’s important because nowadays war definitely does affect everyone differently.”

Among the volunteers was Edith Prefontaine-McMinn, who is already an active volunteer at The Military Museums.

She had her own military career in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s, before she married.

Edith Prefontaine-McMinn smiles after remaining still for about half an hour as a model for Gassed Redux.

“They asked me if I would volunteer to come here as a model,” said Prefontaine-McMinn.

“I never realized how difficult it was to stay still for a half hour or 45 minutes.”

The public is invited to a free reception for the opening of the show on June 22 at 6 p.m. The work can then be seen as part of regular admission to The Military Museums until Sept. 9.