British Columbia

Fans of Canadian artist, writer Emily Carr celebrate her 150th birthday

Monday marks the 150th birthday of iconic Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr.

A new book of previously unpublished papers is also being released this month

An undated file photo of Canadian artist Emily Carr, whose painting style was considered ahead of her time. Today, she is known as one of B.C.'s finest artists. (Canadian Press)

Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr's 150th birthday is on Monday, Dec. 13, and fans are marking the occasion by reflecting on her legacy.

When most people think of artists in B.C., the first name to usually come up is Carr, says Pascale Halliday, manager of Emily Carr House in Victoria. 

"Her work is all over books and tote bags and postcards all around B.C.," said Halliday on CBC's All Points West

"I think part of the fascination is that wasn't the case during her life. She's one of those artists that doesn't become iconic until really after her death."

Emily Carr's work Crazy Stair (The Crooked Staircase), circa 1928-1930. The painting sold at auction for over $3 million in 2013. (Canadian Press)

Carr, who was born in Victoria and lived most of her life in the James Bay neighbourhood, was widely known for her eccentricities and a modern style of painting that did not always gel with the sensibilities of the time. 

"In the 150 years of Emily Carr, we've seen perspectives of her shift wildly from during her lifetime people seeing her as a subversive artist or more commonly in Victoria, a cranky lady who wheeled her pet monkey around town in a baby carriage," said Halliday.

Today, she is recognized as one of Canada's most iconic painters. In 2013, her painting Crazy Stair was sold for over $3 million. 

With that recognition has come greater scrutiny on her legacy, Halliday said.

"You have Indigenous artists like Sonny Assu and Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert who take Emily's legacy and look at it in these really interesting ways about how she interacted with the Indigenous community she visited and how she portrayed them in her painting and writing," she said. 

"[This was] a woman who was a real person ... with some very complicated views, a very complicated early life, and whose work we can now see neither good or bad exactly, but somewhere in the middle, which is not a very conclusive answer."

Emily Carr was born in Victoria, B.C., in 1871, and spent much of her life in the James Bay neighbourhood. (BC Archive/Royal BC Museum)

Victoria's Emily Carr House will be celebrating the artist's 150th birthday with special events Saturday to Monday. Attendees will have to show proof of vaccination and wear masks to attend. 

This month will also mark the release of Unvarnished: Autobiographical Sketches by Emily Carr featuring previously unpublished work from Carr. 

"These are early drafts of stories she later published, some are excerpts from her journal and some are stories she never sent to her publisher or never made it to the light of day before," said Halliday. 

The book is set for release on Dec. 30.

With files from All Points West

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