Arts

How Emily Carr showed the world it's never too late for a career in art

Now, she's a Canadian icon. But Emily Carr was 57 when the country finally noticed her talent.

Emily Carr archival photo

The works for which Carr is most well known weren't painted until the artist was well into her 50s. She died in Victoria, B.C., in 1945. (Vancouver Art Gallery)

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On March 2, 1945, the painter Emily Carr died in her hometown of Victoria, BC. On the 18th anniversary of her death, CBC Radio remembered the life of an icon with this special report. Now, as it was all those years ago, Carr is considered among the most notable figures in Canadian art, one of the first painters in the country to embrace a Modernist style. But recognition and acclaim was something Carr only enjoyed late in life, a fact that's explored in this 1963 broadcast, which features an interview with one of the reclusive artist's first early supporters, and friends, A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven.

Here's how CBC Radio remembered Emily Carr on this day, 53 years ago…

Emily Carr self portrait

(Gift of Peter Bronfman/National Gallery of Canada)

"Emily Carr made an unforgettable impression on everyone who met her or saw her paintings, with some exceptions in her own province," said CBC Radio host Pat Patterson.

Emily Carr Totem and Forest

"Her old Chinese gardener, her laundry man and her vegetable man: these were the ones who said, 'I like to look at your pictures,'" one friend told CBC.

"Vanquished"

Emily Carr's oil-on-canvas painting "Vanquished", 1930. (Trevor Mills/Vancouver Art Gallery)

"Her own contemporaries in Victoria said, 'We can't understand them.'"

 Emily Carr archival photograph

Carr was born in Victoria, B.C., in 1871. The province's sometimes claustrophobic forests, rugged coast and connection to aboriginal culture are clear themes in her work. (BC Archive/Royal BC Museum)

"She just lived her own life, and she didn't bother other people. She really felt that people were not only unkind and unsympathetic and unappreciated, but I mean nobody appreciated her."

Emily Carr Forest Light

Emily Carr. Forest Light, 1936. (Canadian Press)

"She was just working and working and working and not getting any place. So that it was pretty discouraging."

Emily Carr Mountain Forest

Emily Carr. Mountain Forest, 1936. (Canadian Press)

"Though Emily Carr may have been discouraged in her isolation, she never stopped working. AY Jackson, member of the Group of Seven painters, whom she met late in life, says that she couldn't always paint, though she was always busy."

Emily Carr Big Raven

Emily Carr. Big Raven, 1931. (Canadian Press)

Said Jackson:  "She never had any contacts out there at all. There were no artists out 'round  Vancouver of any account."

Emily Carr Cathedral

Emily Carr. Cathedral, 1937. (Canadian Press)

"She'd been working alone for years. And she couldn't sell her work and she had to make rugs and do pottery and all kinds of things to make a living. She even raised sheepdogs, wasting all her time running a boarding house."

Emily Carr

This is an undated file photo of Canadian artist Emily Carr. One of Canada's most eccentric and well-known artists is being honoured with a bronze statue in a prime Victoria location near the B.C. legislature buildings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO (Canadian Press)

Things changed for Carr when she was included in an exhibition of West Coast aboriginal art at the National Gallery in Ottawa, a show that travelled to Montreal and Toronto.

Emily Carr War Canoes Alert Bay

Emily Car. War Canoes, Alert Bay, 1912. (Canadian Press)

As Jackson told CBC Radio: "After she came to Toronto and work was in this exhibition, received a lot of attention, she went back to Victoria, she was sure of herself then."

Emily Carr Happiness

Emily Carr. Happiness, 1939. (Canadian Press)

"Think of it, when she came down in 1927 she was 56 years old, and it was from that time on she did her finest work."

Emily Carr Big Eagle, Skidigate

Emily Carr. Big Eagle, Skidigate, 1930. (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)

"Her canvases were bigger and freer and it was so much easier for her to carry on because she had some backing. And she had friends!"

Emily Carr The Crazy Stair The Crooked Staircase

Emily Carr. The Crazy Stair (The Crooked Staircase), circa 1928-1930. (Canadian Press)

Listen to the complete story:

For more throwbacks like this, visit the CBC Digital Archives.

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