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Emily Carr

Photograph of Emily Carr on a horse

Painter, Writer

Emily Carr

Painting, ODDS AND ENDS, by Emily Carr

Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends, by Emily Carr

"I think that one's art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows." (Carr, Hundreds and Thousands, p. 268)

Emily Carr always celebrated her independence and difference from the world around her. This is apparent in all facets of her life, her art and her writing. Dressed in her usual attire, with a net cap covering her hair and wearing a loose-fitting smock, her lifestyle and appearance gained her the reputation of a lonely and struggling artist.

Carr changed the way Canadians view the rugged grandness of the forest landscapes of the British Columbia coast. Although her art was not fully esteemed in Canada until her later years, it remains a classic example of the splendor and distinctiveness of Canadian art.

Born in 1871, in Victoria, British Columbia, to British parents, Emily was the eighth of nine children. Her parents died when she was young, leaving her strict, oldest sister Edith to care for the family. Emily, who began drawing lessons at the age of eight, asked her financial guardian for permission and monetary support to attend art school in San Francisco, at the California School of Design. She stayed in San Francisco for three years. She also studied in London and the English countryside, for five years, under many different teachers. Then, after a brief period of teaching children and the Ladies Art Club classes in Vancouver, she travelled to France to study under Harry Gibb and Douglas Ferguson.

When Carr returned from her studies in France, her art was not well received in Canada. She was forced to find means other than painting to supplement her income. During the years 1914-1926, Emily was a landlady, sold hens, rabbits, fruit and pottery, and bred English bobtail sheepdogs. Her strong bond with the animal world was evident in a life full of many different sorts of animals, including a monkey named Woo, cats, rats, birds and many dogs of various breeds.

Emily had a reverence and fascination for the First Nations of the British Columbian Coast. During her visit to the Ucluelet Indian Reserve on Vancouver Island in 1898, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people gave her the name "Klee Wyck," which means "laughing one." She once said, "Indian people and their art touched me deeply" (Carr, Growing Pains, p. 211). Her work reflected her interest in First Nations culture, as well as the forest landscapes and skies of the British Columbia coast.

Emily was deeply moved by the work of the Group of Seven, which was similar to her own in its vivid interpretations of wilderness landscape. In 1927, at an exhibition in Ottawa, she met Lawren Harris, a person with whom she would begin a lifelong friendship. Carr admired Lawren Harris' work, and he encouraged her and gave her confidence throughout the later part of her painting career. Although she was never officially a member of the Group of Seven, Carr became a charter member of the Canadian Group of Painters — an organization that came together in 1932, after the Group of Seven disbanded. Her work became more valued in the years following her membership into this society of artists. She was given her first solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1938, at the age of 67.

Emily's writing career bloomed rather late in her life. She began writing at the age of 70. She was in the hospital, after her second heart attack, and writing was a way of passing the time. Her first book Klee Wyck was an instant success and won the Governor General's Literary Award. The Book of Small, her second novel, was named Canadian Book of the Year in 1942. Growing Pains, her acclaimed autobiography, was completed just before her death.

After many years of heart problems, Emily Carr died March 3rd, 1945 at St. Mary's Priory, a Victoria nursing home. Three days before her death, she was overjoyed to receive the news that the University of British Columbia planned to honour her with the degree of Doctor of Letters at its May 1945 convocation. Carr's paintings and writings fill galleries and libraries across Canada, and she will always be remembered as one of Canada's most talented artists.


Braid, Kate. — Emily Carr : rebel artist. — Montreal : XYZ Publishing, 2000. — 178 p. — (The quest library ; 6)

Carr, Emily. — Growing pains : the autobiography of Emily Carr. — Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1946. — 281 p. — Also published in French, entitled Les maux de la croissance : autobiographie

____. — Hundreds and thousands : the journals of Emily Carr. — Toronto : Clarke, Irwin, [c1966]. — 332 p.

Newlands, Anne. — Emily Carr : an introduction to her life and art. — Willowdale, Ont. : Firefly Books Ltd, 1996. — 64 p.

Shadbolt, Doris. — The art of Emily Carr. — Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, 1979. — 223 p.

Tippett, Maria. — Emily Carr, a biography. — Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1979. — 314 p. — Also published in braille: Toronto : CNIB, 1985, and as a sound recording: Toronto : CNIB, 1982

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