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Artists as Writers: Carr, Emily

Artist Biography


(Photo of Emily Carr from University of Victoria)

CARR, Emily (1871 - 1945)

Areas of Expertise

Painting, Landscapes

Biography

Emily Carr was born in Victoria, British Columbia, and moved to San Francisco in 1890 to study art after the death of her parents. In 1899 she travelled to England to deepen her studies, where she spent time at the Westminster School of Art in London and at various studio schools in Cornwall, Bushey, Hertfordshire, and elsewhere. In 1910, she spent a year studying art at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and elsewhere in France before moving back to British Columbia permanently the following year.

Carr was most heavily influenced by the landscape and First Nations cultures of British Columbia, and Alaska. Having visited a mission school beside the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Ucluelet in 1898, in 1908 she was inspired by a visit to Skagway and began to paint the totem poles of the coastal Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit and other communities, in an attempt to record and learn from as many as possible. In 1913 she was obliged by financial considerations to return permanently to Victoria after a few years in Vancouver, both of which towns were, at that time, artistically conservative. Influenced by styles such as postimpressionism and Fauvism, her work was alien to those around her and remained unknown to and unrecognized by the greater art world for many years. For more than a decade she worked as a potter, dog breeder and boarding house landlady, having given up on her artistic career.

In the 1920s she came into contact with members of the Group of Seven (artists) after being invited by the National Gallery of Canada to participate in an exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern. She travelled to Ontario for this show in 1927 where she met members of the Group, including Lawren Harris, whose support was invaluable. She was invited to submit her works for inclusion in a Group of Seven exhibition, the beginning of her long and valuable association with the Group. They named her 'The Mother of Modern Arts' around five years later.

Carr experimented with many styles throughout her lengthy career, and her art approximates trends in the development of modernism in the first half of the twentieth century. She may have been influenced by Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Abstraction, but she never took any movement to its extreme conclusion, though she was always seen as a radical in conservative British Columbia. Despite changes in her style, approach and intent, she remained absorbed by two principal and often overlapping themes: the "disappearing" First Nations cultures and the western landscape. She is perhaps best known for the work she produced in the last decade of her life — dark and rhythmic forests, vast spiritual skies and monumental totemic structures — when she developed a style that was entirely her own.

© Above biography from Art History Archive and Vancouver Art Gallery's very comprehensive resource about Carr

Online Resources

Emily Carr: At Home and At Work - A Compendium of the Life & Work of Emily Carr, Canadian Artist and Author.  B.C. Heritage website ith comprehensive information regarding Carr's personal and professional life, encompassing both written and artistic works. 

View hundreds of digitized images of Carr's pottery, sketches, drawings, illustrations, and paintings which includes some archival, unpublished materials found in the B.C. Archives Collection (808 digitized items), Vancouver Art Gallery Collection (206 digitized items), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Collection, Carr House Collection, and other collections.

Emily Carr Connections - a website with a lot of information about Carr the artist, writer, "character," her artworks, online exhibitions and resources.

Writing by Emily Carr

Please note that not all works are available through the OCADU library. To acquire one of these works through Interlibrary Loan or other means, please contact the library for assistance.

Emily Carr: Writing about her own art

"Miss Carr Replies." Vancouver Daily Province, 8 Apr. 1912.
A response to conservative 19th century pictorial painting lovers' criticisms after an exhibition with her work

Klee Wyck. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1941. Available at OCADU Library.
This wwas Carr's first book after visiting, living and painting First Nations communities & totem poles. It won the Governor General's award for non-fiction.

Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr. Foreword by Ira Dilworth. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1946. Available at OCADU LIbrary.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966. Available at OCADU Library.

Seven Journeys: The Sketchbooks of Emily Carr. Doris Shadbolt. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre ; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. Available at OCADU Library.
This text details journeys between 1927-1930 with drawings and quotes from previously unpublished writings and letters by Carr.

Emily Carr: Writing about art

"Modern and Indian Art of the West Coast." Supplement to the McGill News, June 1929: 18-22.

"Picture Gallery." Victoria Daily Times, 13 Dec. 1932

An Address by Emily Carr. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Fresh Seeing: Two Addresses by Emily Carr. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1972. Available at OCADU Library.
This book includes transcripts from addresses given by Carr: "Fresh Seeing" from 1930 about modern art's major features & problems and "The Something Plus in a Work of Art" from 1935 about criteria used in judging artist's works.

Emily Carr: Letters and Journals

Letters

"A Canadian Drama." Carr, Emily, Ottawa Citizen, 14 Dec. 1945.
A letter to Eric Brown, 1 Nov. 1927.

M.E.; A Portrayal of Emily Carr. Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1969. Available at OCADU Library.

"Letters from Emily Carr." Blissett, W.F., ed. University of Toronto Quarterly 41.2 (Winter 1972): 93-150. Available at OCADU Library.
A reprint of 44 letters written by Carr to Ruth Humphrey from 1937-1944.

Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney and Humphrey Toms. Doreen Walker, ed. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1990. Available at OCADU Library (eBook).

"Emily Carr Letter to Maud and Eric Brown [11 Aug 1928]." in Emily Carr, ed. Judith Mastai. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1992: 6-8. Available at OCADU Library.

"Letters to John Davis Hatch, 1939-43." in The Verbal and the Visual, ed. Judith Mastai, Hanif Han Mohamed, and John O'Brian, special issue, Collapse: The View From Here, no. 2. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Forum Society, 1996: 71-77.

Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings. Susan Crean, ed. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2003, 2004. Available at OCADU Library.
A publication of diaries & letters.

Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth. Linda M. Morra, ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006, 2008. Available at OCADU Library.

 

Journals

Pause: A Sketch Book. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1953. Available at OCADU Library.
Sketches, drawings, verses about Carr's 18-month stay in an English sanitorium after she became ill while studying art at London's Westminster School in 1902.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966. Available at OCADU Library.

Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings. Susan Crean, ed. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2003, 2004. Available at OCADU Library.
A publication of diaries & letters.

Emily Carr: Autobiography

Klee Wyck. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1941.
This wwas Carr's first book after visiting, living and painting First Nations communities & totem poles. It won the Governor General's award for non-fiction. Available at OCADU Library.

The Book of Small. Toronto Oxford University Press, 1942. Available in the Emily Carr Omnibus at OCADU Library.

The House of All Sorts. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1944.
Emily Carr was primarily a painter, but she first gained recognition as an author for her seven books about her journeys to remote Native communities and stories about life as an artist, as a small child in Victoria at the turn of the last century--and as a reluctant landlady. Available at OCADU Library.

Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr. Foreword by Ira Dilworth. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1946.
Available at OCADU LIbrary.

A Little Town and a Little Girl. Foreword by Ira Dilworth. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1951.

Pause: A Sketch Book. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1953.
Sketches, drawings, verses about Carr's 18-month stay in an English sanitorium after she became ill while studying art at London's Westminster School in 1902. Available at OCADU Library.

The Heart of a Peacock. Ira Dilworth, ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Miscellany of the author's unpublished writings, containing stories of West Coast First Nations life, birds and animals from Carr's childhood experiences. Available at OCADU Library.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966. Available at OCADU Library.

The Emily Carr Omnibus (reprinted as The Complete Writings of Emily Carr). Introduction by Doris Shadbolt. Vancouver, Toronto, and Seattle: Douglas & McIntyre and Univ. of Washington Press, 1993. Reprinted as The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, Vancouver, Toronto, and Seattle: Douglas & McIntyre and Univ. of Washington Press, 1997 (1st pbk ed.), 2006.
Includes Klee Wyck, The Book of Small, The House of All Sorts, Growing Pains, The Heart of a Peacock, Pause: A Sketch Book, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of An Artist. Available at OCADU Library.

The Emily Carr Collection: Four Complete and Unabridged Canadian Classics.  Toronto: Key Porter, 2002.
Includes Klee Wyck, The Book of Small, The House of All Sorts, and Growing Pains

Wildflowers. Victoria, B.C.: Royal BC Museum, 2006.
Writing by Carr about native flowers and shrubs that recalled her childhood memories and associations

Flirt, Punk & Loo: My Dogs and I. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007.
Reprinted as Emily Carr & Her Dogs: Flirt, Punk & Loo, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002, 2005. Available at OCADU Library.

This and That: The Lost Stories of Emily Carr. Ann-Lee Switzer, ed. Surrey, B.C.: Touchwood Editions, 2007.
Anecdotes and stories about Carr's family life, school days, love of nature and animals, and how she learned to smoke.

Emily Carr: Poetry

Poetry (or "Doggerel Verses" - how Carr referred to her verses, quoted from Growing Pains, p. 236)

Pause: A Sketch Book. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1953.
Sketches, drawings, verses about Carr's 18-month stay in an English sanitorium after she became ill while studying art at London's Westminster School in 1902. Available at OCADU Library.

Emily Carr, 1871-1945: London, and Student Sojourn 1901: Reproduction. Victoria: British Columbia Archives collection, Royal BC Museum Corp. Phyllis Inglis Collection, presented by the National Museums of Canada, [Ottawa]: 1985.
A reproduction of a book of poems by Emily Carr for an exhibition held in 1985.

The Olsson Student, London Student Sojourn, Alaska Journal are all also illustrated narratives with "doggerel verses" (Growing Pains, p.236) by Carr; all in the collections of the Royal BC Museum & Archives, except Alaska Journal whose whereabouts are unknown.

Emily Carr: Writing about animals and nature

The House of All Sorts. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1944.
Emily Carr was primarily a painter, but she first gained recognition as an author for her seven books about her journeys to remote Native communities and stories about life as an artist, as a small child in Victoria at the turn of the last century--and as a reluctant landlady. Available at OCADU Library.

The Heart of a Peacock. Ira Dilworth, ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Miscellany of the author's unpublished writings, containing stories of West Coast First Nations life, birds and animals from Carr's childhood experiences. Available at OCADU Library.

Wildflowers. Victoria, B.C.: Royal BC Museum, 2006.
Writing by Carr about native flowers and shrubs that recalled her childhood memories and associations

Flirt, Punk & Loo: My Dogs and I. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007.
Reprinted as Emily Carr & Her Dogs: Flirt, Punk & Loo, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002, 2005. Available at OCADU Library.

This and That: The Lost Stories of Emily Carr. Ann-Lee Switzer, ed. Surrey, B.C.: Touchwood Editions, 2007.
Anecdotes and stories about Carr's family life, school days, love of nature and animals, and how she learned to smoke

Studio Billie's Calendar: A Perpetual Calendar. Victoria: Royal BC Museum, 2010.
A calendar with space for notes that shows a year through the eyes of Studio Billie, Carr's dog, with illustrations and short account for each month, from 1909.  Visit the Royal BC Museum website about the work.

Emily Carr: Travel writing

Klee Wyck. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1941.
This wwas Carr's first book after visiting, living and painting First Nations communities & totem poles. It won the Governor General's award for non-fiction. Available at OCADU Library.

The Heart of a Peacock. Ira Dilworth, ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Miscellany of the author's unpublished writings, containing stories of West Coast First Nations life, birds and animals from Carr's childhood experiences. Available at OCADU Library.

"Kitwancool." Native Peoples in Canadian Literature. William and Christine Mowat, eds. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1975.

Sunlight in the Shadows: The Landscape of Emily Carr. Photography by Michael Breuer; text by Kerry Mason Dodd. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1984.
This text includes excerpts from Carr's unpublished correspondence, manuscripts and journals. Available at OCADU Library.

Seven Journeys: The Sketchbooks of Emily Carr. Doris Shadbolt. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre ; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.
This book details Carr's journeys between 1927-1930, with drawings and quotes from previously unpublished writings & letters by Carr.

Sister and I from Victoria to London. Victoria: Royal BC Museum, 2011.
Carr documents a trip to London, England with her sister, Alice, in 1910. Written and illustrated by Carr, from her notebook

Sister and I in Alaska: an illustrated diary of a trip to Alert Bay, Skagway, Juneau, and Sitka in 1907. Figure 1 Publishing, 2014.
The forty-seven full-page watercolours, fresh and bright, are accompanied by Carr's saucy comments about people, animals, ships, and hotels. Available at OCADU Library.