Emily Carr appeals to me, and not just because she rode, unconventionally for her time, cross-saddle, and with confidence (I loved riding horses when I was younger). It’s the same confidence you see in the way she invites you into the forests she loves and recreates. It’s in her strong, swirling landscapes, and underlies the love with which she records the aboriginal art she saw. It allowed her to take upon herself the task of recording the artistic heritage of the aboriginal people in British Columbia and Alaska.
Not that she always had confidence that her work would be accepted. She was ahead of her time and place, and her work was not always appreciated by those in the community she lived in. There were times when she focused less on her painting, and more on other aspects of her life – like the years she spent running her boarding house to support herself. Though she never stopped painting, it took a meeting with the Group of Seven and the encouragement of Lawren Harris to persuade her to return seriously to her work.
Happily for us, return she did. In many ways it is not surprising. After all, she was adventurous, strong, individualistic. She traveled, both to learn more about creating and to create her own work – to England and Europe as well as across Canada to learn and exhibit; to aboriginal villages, into the forests and along the western Canadian coasts, to sketch and paint. She proved very capable of defending or explaining her own work when she felt the need to.
I’m surprised that before I came to Canada I had no idea who she was. In Canada, though, you could say I found her twice. The first time was when I saw her work at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. We loved visiting the gallery and would sometimes stop there when we were out and about, and besides being a beautiful place to visit it was my introduction to Canadian art.
I found her again through her own words, stumbling across some of the books she wrote after she had a major heart attack in 1839. Klee Wyck, The House of All Sorts, Bits and Pieces, all told me more about her and how she saw her world. Her words introduced me to a woman of sense, practicality and humor.
Both her work and her life have taught and continue to teach me about work, observation, practice and grace. I hope you’ll enjoy some of her work, in this video from marisayutub:
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain