Artist and alumna Jessica Wiebe: entrenched in Acadia’s history

By Clancy Waite (’15)

Protect the memory of those who served. That’s exactly what Jessica Wiebe (’16) had in mind when she set up a foxhole of sorts around Acadia University’s War Memorial on May 25, 2017. Using art, Wiebe sought to honour veterans, past and present, for their sacrifice and service.

Chosen by a jury of professional artists and community members as one of 20 artists to take part in this year’s Uncommon Common Art (UCA) initiative, Wiebe drew from her experience as an educator and veteran to complete a performance piece commemorating soldiers who have lost their lives in combat. Incorporating the War Memorial near Acadia’s Athletic Complex, she created a display to give viewers an impression of what it was like in the trenches. Her piece was inaugurated June 1 and will run to October 31, 2017.   

Wiebe herself is a veteran. She joined the reserves in 2006 and served for three-and-a-half years, including a six-month tour in Afghanistan before retiring and beginning post-secondary studies. She received a BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2015 and a Bachelor of Education from Acadia in 2016.  

More Acadia connections

The theme of this year’s UCA was to “connect the artwork to the terrestrial or subterranean landscape of Kings County,” Wiebe said, “and I knew I wanted my work to connect to military history.”

Researching the local history of soldiers from World War I and II, she came across letters written by Acadia alumnus Robbins Elliott (’41), who served in the Second World War. By virtue of her own unique style of detective work, Wiebe discovered that Elliott’s dream was to establish a memorial for Acadia students who served in the Second World War and Korean War, so it was fitting that her exhibit incorporates the monument and highlights the service of men and women. Reporter and Wolfville town councillor Wendy Elliott (’75) said of her father, “he was the one who pushed for that second plinth. That wouldn’t be there without him. It didn’t happen while he was alive, but it did happen.”

Wiebe conceived an interactive piece that began at the gates of Camp Aldershot in Kings County. Several Acadia alumni participated, including Wendy Elliott (’75), Steven Slipp (’76), Andrew Potter Cogan (’16) and Connor Hill-McMullin (‘18). Wiebe, a group of veterans and local community members hiked 14 kilometres along the former Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) line with Wiebe carrying a 50-pound sculpture in her rucksack. “It represents a newer generation of veterans connecting to former soldiers and generations of military members. I wanted symbolically to carry that weight through the landscape.”

Preserving the memory

The DAR transported thousands of soldiers to Camp Aldershot from all over Nova Scotia. “I know Acadia felt a large loss with both of those wars,” Wiebe said. “My military experience and degree at Acadia established the connection.”

Arriving at the monument, Wiebe and her supporters worked together to build a trench out of 550 sandbags that now surround the monument. She said it preserves the memory of soldiers who are often invisible in our everyday landscape.

For George Slipp, Robbins Elliott’s grandson, Wiebe’s project is more than just a piece of art. “It was an honour for me to walk because I was walking for my grandfather. I was the one who accepted the monument on his behalf,” he said, and seeing Wiebe’s concept come together created a sense of pride for his family.

Slipp’s reaction is what Wiebe hopes to inspire in others as they view the artwork. “More meaning comes as hidden stories and narratives are revealed by local community members,” Wiebe noted. “I hope the community members who experience it are able to locate themselves within that history and the present day. I don’t believe the monument is the memorial. The memorial, in fact, is in the space between the viewer and the monument.”

Jessica Wiebe (’16) working on the monument piece. (Photo: Susan Markham Starr)

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