Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Who Was Emily Carr?

The Forest Lover, published 2004.
Reading about places that I've been is always a great pleasure: a pleasure I enjoyed when reading Susan Vreeland's novel The Forest Lover. Vreeland created a fiction based on the life of Canadian painter and memoirist Emily Carr (1871-1945). Carr lived and painted in British Columbia with a one-year stay in Paris to study art. A major subject of Carr's paintings was the art of the native American villages in the Vancouver-Victoria area. She also visited Sitka, Alaska, where native art was dramatically visible. I have visited these places which intensified my enjoyment of the book, though I do not recall seeing Carr's works in the Canadian museums we have visited. 

Carr is one of many highly creative people who was ahead of her time, and was rebuffed and rejected in her efforts to be recognized for her work. The narrow-minded, anti-woman, anti-modern-art, anti-intellectual, and pompously religious attitudes of the Canadians of her time is very well depicted in Vreeland's novel. Carr was attempting to use the vision of Parisian artists of the pre-World-War I era to depict the beauty of the Canadian forests and of the native wood carvings, including especially the many historic totem poles that were being neglected and destroyed as the native people were being dispossessed. Her struggle to preserve her visionary appreciation of native art, which was held in contempt by her peers, is a fascinating story.

Emily Carr’s painting of Sophie, a native woman
who was a major character in her life and in Vreeland’s novel.
This image is from Carr’s memoir Klee Wyck, -- my next read.

In 2018, I paid a very memorable visit to Alert Bay, BC, a village where a great deal of Vreeland's novel takes place. Alert Bay is particularly remembered in history because of a shameful episode where the Canadian officials confiscated the tribal possessions, especially the masks used in their ceremonies. I learned about this on our visit to the town, and thus I was fascinated by the novel's treatment of Carr's eyewitness experience of the terrible mistreatment of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe of Canadian First People in Alert Bay. I wrote about my visit and about the history of Alert Bay and the dramatic return of their property in the 1960s here: 

While I found the novel and its depiction of Emily Carr engaging, I was captivated by the art works themselves, as I looked them up while reading Vreeland's description of her struggles to create them. Carr was finally recognized, after years of rejection for her creative use of the style of the cubists, the fauves, and the other moderns, and these works were finally included in major Canadian art shows late in her life. My review of the novel is © 2021 -- the following images are credited with their sources.

Illustration from Carr's journal of her trip to Alaska in 1907 (source)

Carr, Indian Village Alert Bay, 1912. (source)

War Canoes in Alert Bay, 1912 (source)

Tanoo, Queen Charlotte Island, BC, 1913 (source)

Big Eagle, Skidegate, BC, 1930 (source)

The Burial Ground at Alert Bay, BC. From our trip in 2018. In Vreeland's book, Emily Carr saw the totem poles
in burial grounds of native villages falling into disrepair. Now, 100 years later, they are treated with respect.


Nancy Chan said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Good art works.

Lisca said...

What an interesting post, Mae. You had me hopping through the links too. I loved it.
Being European, I know very little about native Americans and I had not heard of Emily Carr. Her art is magnificent and the book about her is now on my radar.
Thank you so much,

Eva Taylor said...

The AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto has several pieces as does the McMichael collection in Kleinburg (https://mcmichael.com/).
Eva http://kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com/

Jeanie said...

This sounds fascinating. I don't know Carr or her work but I do know Vreeland and I like her writing about art very much. Looks good!

Anne in the kitchen said...

I love reading your book reviews and learn something nearly every time. Thank you for sharing this.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

The destruction of tribal property and possessions is awful and so shameful.

Iris Flavia said...

Sad we´re not one people, important to keep track of the past to make it better in the future...

Debra Eliotseats said...

I love the art you featured here. Adding this one to my TBR stack. Thank you for making me aware.