Emily Carr (1871-1945)
Emily Carr was born on December 13th, 1871. She was the eighth of nine children and because it was the year BC joined confederation, she was the first of her family to be born Canadian. She was fiercely proud of that. Her childhood home is now owned by the people of British Columbia and is both a National and Provincial Historic Site. Emily Carr House is an intrepretive centre open to the public dedicated to her life, her art and her writings. Although often misunderstood by her family they loved her dearly and she them. We know this from her many autobiographical writings.
In describing her life we however turn to the words of two of her most stalwart friends- her editor, Ira Dilworth and the artist, Lawren Harris.
Harris says of her: “The work of Emily Carr and the circumstances in which it was achieved are unique in Canada. She was a passionate, powerful and creatively determined individual who turned fully to her beloved woods and skies and Native Villages. From the earliest work of her girlhood and on into the work of her last years, in hundreds of paintings and sketches, there unfolds the inner story of a vital adventure, full of intense struggle to achieve and the reward of the living embodiment in paint of her love.”
This life’s adventure took her to remote native settlements throughout British Columbia. It took her to San Francisco, to London, Paris, Eastern Canada, Chicago and New York.
Dilworth describes another aspect of her adventure; Her Writing: “In 1941, the world at large learned for the first time of Emily Carr, the author. Her book Klee Wyck, a collection of sketches of Native Life written in so sensitive rich and vivid a prose that the volume was greeted at once as a classic. Klee Wyck went on to win the Governor General’s Gold Metal for literature. Behind the easy simplicity and dignity of that style lay years of patient work, practicing her skill in the use of words with as great car and discrimination as she devoted to her painting.”
Dilworth also describes Carr’s last days: “During the early months of 1945, she worked on some of her old oil-on-paper sketches, preparing them for an exhibition to be held in Vancouver. Emily suddenly felt tired. She packed up her type writer and went to a nursing home to rest. There, less than a week later, on March 2nd, death came to her.”
In their final descriptions of her, Dilworth and Harris echo each other. Harris says: “Her life was a creative on going. Through -out her days her work kept changing and developing. For the creative artist there is no finality, no one has said the last word on Emily Carr and no one ever will.”
Dilworth says: “Hers was a peculiarly full life. The volume and variety of her work is staggering. Never was there a truer, simpler or more sincere Canadian. It is impossible to think of her work as finished-it goes on. ”
But is it with Emily Carr’s own words that I would like to end this brief sketch of her life. When late in her life she was to give some of the outstanding events of her life, Carr wrote.: “Outstanding events! work and more work! I sat self contained with dogs, monkey and work- writing into the long dark evenings after painting-loving everything terrifically. In later years my work had some praise and some successes but the outstanding event to me was the doing which I am still at. Don’t pickle me away as done.”