emily carr: an unexpected icon :: Okan Arts
emily carr: an unexpected icon

emily carr: an unexpected icon

By Patricia Belyea 

VICTORIA BC  Here I am in the hometown of Emily Carr. Today Canadians revere their most famous woman artist but most of Emily’s life was one of rejection and toil.

As a young woman, Emily followed her artistic star and studied painting in San Francisco, England and France.

Back from her studies and a brief stint as an art teacher, Emily headed into the backwoods and painted in the encampments of aboriginals—on the west coast of Vancouver Island and in the Northwest Territories. Her spirited artwork was not well-received so Emily gave up believing she could make her living as a painter.

The next 15 years of her life were spent running a boarding house, hooking rugs, breeding sheep dogs, making pottery with native designs, and painting a few canvases. At the age of 56, the tides turned for Emily when her aboriginal artwork was included in an important exhibit in Ottawa. From there, Emily Carr gained recognition for her art and went on to produce some of her most important paintings. In her final years, due to ill health, Emily became a prolific writer.

Emily was an individual. She was bristly. She dressed in odd clothes. She went places by herself where few people chose to go. And she was continually surrounded by animals, including her Javanese monkey Woo that she liked to dress up.

It is stated that Emily was a late bloomer. I don’t see it that way. If others had appreciated her artwork when she was younger, Emily wouldn’t have lost so many years of her career to just scrapping by.

Emily truly was an oddball so maybe that is why her community did not support her. Yet it was all her peccadillos that contributed to Emily being able to produce such unique artwork that’s so admired today.

Sculpture: Our Emily, by Barbara Paterson, 2010

Painting: Kitwancool, by Emily Carr, 1928
From Wikimedia Commons, freely licensed media


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