Emily Carr – Canadian Artist

by Sandy Wagner

I don’t know if any of you have read books by Susan Vreeland but they are written as if you are in the story and hard to put down. Her research and writing is well done and she writes about artists. Susan discovered Emily Carr’s work in Victoria and was taken by her spunk and strong colors. The author states: In paint and words, Emily Carr casts a tall shadow, one which has accompanied me in western forests ever since I made her acquaintance in 1981 in the Emily Carr Gallery, once her father’s warehouse in Victoria”. The book is “The Forest Lover”.

Front cover of “The Forest Lover” with a forest painting of Carr’s

Emily Carr was born in 1871 and died in 1945 and was an independent woman and a painter way before her time – she was born in Victoria, BC – came from a large family and did not conform with her family or the times in which she lived. She went alone to live in the native villages with the purpose of saving the art of the totem pole by painting them, the mountains and forests, the people and the history of Canada. She searched for herself and her style in Europe.

Her work can be viewed on several sites – the following site also has a brief history of her life. www.beaux-arts.ca/cybermuse/search/artist_work_e.jsp?iartistid=915 . The Canadians call her “A Canadian Expressionist”. Her life and work is fascinating and some of her art lends itself to fiber. Her painting are in a permanent collection in the National Gallery of Canada in Vancouver, BC.

The author states: In paint and words, Emily Carr casts a tall shadow, one which has accompanied me in western forests ever since I made her acquaintance in 1981 in the Emily Carr Gallery, once her father’s warehouse in Victoria.

Totem Mother, Kitwancool Totem Mother, Kitwancool, oil on canvas, 1928 – 109.5×60.0 cm

book31.jpg Tree Trunk, oil on canvas, 1930 – 129.1×56.3 cm

Ann Stewart Anderson former Kentucky Foundation for Women states that “Artists should believe that there are ways to change the world by art”. I believe that with Emily’s work and Susan’s writings this can happen – It made me look at things differently

Emily is referred to as “A WOMEN PAINTER”. In 2007 are we still referred to as “A WOMEN ????” in the art world? Are we achieving status as an artist whatever the medium?

Sandy Wagner

5 Responses to “Emily Carr – Canadian Artist”

  1. 1 sandyw March 22, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Terry I had not seen the Sombreness Sunlit before – it is power standing alone. The pines look as if they were hit by a whirlwind.

    Her life is inspiring – when you look at some of our present world that spends it time complaining I wish they had to spend time as one of the pioneer families.


  2. 2 june March 20, 2007 at 6:15 pm


    I’m happy you like Carr — you probably have said so earlier, but your work is so clear and graphic (as in large shapes, clearly outlined, with the clarity of the commercial prints) that I must have forgotten.

    I’ve often thought about Carr’s work in fabric. She’s so painterly — those great swooshes and that fantastic movement that she gets in all her later work — that I can’t imagine it in commercial fabrics or even in the sweet smooshy hand-dyes. I think it would take painting on the fabric to achieve anything close to what she achieves. But if you could get the imagery right, then the quilting would be supreme — the lines would fit in and enhance the movement of the paintings.

    Maybe we can channel Ms Carr and bring her back to paint some more.

  3. 3 Clairan March 20, 2007 at 6:26 am

    I first discovered Emily Carr in Vancouver. I found her work powerful, and the story of her persistence in the face of almost overwhelming obstacles is certainly inspiring. I find it especially interesting that she made a lot of art by recording other art, the totem poles, many of which certainly no longer exist.

  4. 4 terry grant March 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Sandy, I was not able to make the link you posted work, but I did find quite a good site devoted to Carr here:


    I stumbled upon an exhibit of Carr’s work on a trip to Victoria, BC a number of years ago. At the time I think I had barely heard of her and knew nothing about her. I was very taken with the strength and vigor of her work, which at first glance seemed almost crude. The more I looked, however, the more I saw that her work really conveys a sense of life force, especially in the trees she paints. Above all, I loved her trees, which seem to be reaching and grasping at the sky in a very humanlike way. One of my favorites was either this paiting or one very like it.

    The strong yellow sunlight floods the depth of the forest with a force like a huge wave. Emily Carr’s version of nature is not pretty, sylvan, sun-dappled woods. It is fierce and alive and exciting.

  5. 5 june March 19, 2007 at 8:52 am


    Carr is one of my touchstone heros, as well as a painter I think about when I’m working with landscapes.

    As a hero, she exemplifies a working life that spanned from her art school years before 1900 when she went to San Francisco, London, and the European continent from the very provincial (at that time) city of Victoria, BC, Canada.

    She returned, somewhat traumatized by her European work — she missed the Pacific Northwest — painted some, but then, due to poverty, did very little until she was 55 years old. She moved from an ideal of preserving the native imagery to working out of her own sense of the immensity and spirit of the treed landscape. In her later years of painting, she spent summers in a makeshift trailer out in the woods, taking only her dogs and monkey with her.

    All this while dealing with a very tight-lipped, very censorious family and society, who disapproved of almost everything she did.

    Lawren Harris, of the Canadian Group of Seven, became a mentor to her when she got some paintings into an exhibit in eastern Canada. His landscapes too are worth looking at — very much of a piece with Arthur Dove, Charles Birchfield, Grant Wood, and others.

    I have a bunch of books about her, as well as her own writings (she published some short stories and autobiographical materials). Another, besides the Vreeland, that I found maddening, eccentric, and very worth while is Susan Crean’s “The Laughing One: a Journey to Emily Carr.”

    I think that Carr and Tamayo make an interesting pair — both from the North American continent, both traveled and part of the excitement of the new art movements of their time, and both clearly part of their own time, place, and knowledges. Carr, too, was interested in painting the spirit, not just the forms.

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