Emily Carr: Between the Forest and the Sea
|Skidegate in the Haida Gwaii islands painted by Emily Carr|
|Emily in the white lace collar|
|War Canoes: Alert Bay|
She was fascinated by the carved poles still standing outside the houses, tilting in rows along the shoreline. Sometimes she despaired of capturing them as she wanted. 'Every creative individual despairs . . . No matter how fine the things are, there are always finer things to be done.'
She loved the forests of giant redwood which were gradually being plundered for timber by colonial corporations. '[the forest's] bigness and stark reality baffled my white man's understanding. I had been trained to see outsides only, not struggle to pierce.'
|The mysterious redwood forests of the Haida Gwaii|
Susan Vreeland wrote a novel around Emily's life called 'The Forest Lover' based partly on Emily's journals - the fragments of autobiography she wrote in old age and published. I managed to find these online as part of the Gutenberg Project. The texts are beautifully written and quite poetic. They show that Emily was not only a painter, but also a gifted writer. There's one description of a wooden landing stage 'its crooked legs stockinged in barnacles' that has stayed with me, and the account of her meeting with the carving of D'Sonoqua - the totemic wild woman of the forest, 'Horror tumbled from the shadows of her eyes'. There are wonderful descriptions of the rotting carvings of the Raven perched outside the villages.
The exhibition also had some of Emily's notebooks - tiny detailed sketches - as well as illustrated books she made of excursions with one of her sisters. The cartoons of some of the funnier things that happened to them were fantastic. Emily obviously had a very well developed sense of humour. This is her account of a Sunday sermon:
Beneath Parson Leakey's so sorrowful eyes
We sit in a row while the soft daylight dies,
And list to a sermon so woeful and sad
We feel that we never again can be glad.
With tear drops besprinkling our sunfreckled cheeks
We feel we daren't smile for many long weeks.
Oh Leakey, the morbid, why are you so sad?
Do you mourn for the good times you ought to have had?
|One of Emily's hand-made journals|
|Emily with her dogs at The Elephant|
Susie's life was an example of how European diseases, such as smallpox and TB, ravaged the Haida community, reducing the population by more than 80% in a couple of decades. Emily's remarkable work, both written and painted, records a very important period in Canadian history and provides a written and visual record of the vanishing culture of the Haida people. Emily felt a spiritual link with the islands and their people that was almost unique. She was a very special person and this comes over both in her paintings and her journals.
|Emily with one of her dogs in old age.|