Canadian born Emily Carr was an accomplished painter and writer whose remarkable works of art reflect an unsurpassed love and pride for her native coastal British Columbian environment. Her accomplishments will forever remain a permanent part of Canadian art history.
Carr was born on December 13, 1871 and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. Rebellious by nature, she resented her father’s strict parenting and was driven at a very young age to march to her own tune. Losing her parents in her teenage years would demand a strong will as life’s hardships molded and shaped this young spirit. With a palette and brush in hand, and nature as her backdrop, she found solace in painting.
With a strong desire to develop her talent, Emily Carr moved from Victoria to study at the California School of Design in San Francisco in 1890 and stayed there for three years. Although abundantly talented, she lacked the ability to finance her studies. Consequently, she returned home to Victoria to regroup. Turning the family barn into a classroom allowed her to teach art as a means to earn a living.
In 1898, a visit to the village of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island inspired Emily Carr’s first sketching of Native subject matter which would later become her trademark. A renewed interest soon developed into a need to paint, and a year later she enrolled at the Westminster School of Art in London and then at the Academie Colarossi in Paris.
Emily Carr often went home to find peace and inspiration in her Canadian environment. To her dismay, a Canadian exhibition in 1912 that included her Indian subjects was not met with much enthusiasm or excitement from the public.
In 1913, she built her “House of all Sorts” and rented rooms to support her painting. During this time, she also applied her talent and skills to making pottery and rugs decorated with Indian designs to sell to tourists. In addition, she bred dogs. Perseverance paid off when in 1927, Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, visited her studio and invited her to participate in the Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art. The exhibition included twenty-six of her paintings, as well as some of her pottery and rugs. This event brought about a meeting with Lawren Harris who turned out to be the motivator she needed. An alliance with his associates in the Group of Seven opened up doors for her career.
Native culture and coastal nature inspired works at this time that depicted dark forests, trees and Native carvings. Carr developed a fascination for the Native's relationship with the natural and spiritual world and the environment.
Once again, a lack of funding for supplies awakened the creative side of Emily Carr. A blend of oil paint and gasoline was an innovative process that allowed her to create at a fraction of the cost. Some materials she used consisted of white house paint and cheap manila paper.
Emily Carr spent a lot of time reflecting and this need to understand herself inspired her to write. She took a course in journalism and soon discovered that she had other talents. By the late 1930’s, she had been published several times and after declining health confined her to her bed, she decided to make writing her focus. Some popular publications include ‘Klee Wych’, ‘The Book of Small’, ‘The House of All Sorts’, and ‘Hundreds and Thousands’.
In 1937, Emily Carr suffered a heart attack and spent the next five years in and out of hospital. Four years later, she received the Governor General's award in literature for ‘Klee Wyck’, a compilation of stories about her encounters with native peoples. Health problems did not deter her from work as she continued to have solo exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1937 and the Vancouver Art Gallery a year later. Emily Carr continued to paint and write until her death in 1945.