secrets up north


In 1927, Emily Carr was creatively blocked, financially insolvent, spiritually arid, and on the verge of becoming the greatest discovery in the history of Canadian art. The fifty-five-year-old spinster had largely given up art and was raising chickens in her backyard in Victoria when Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, knocked at her door and asked if he could look around. Painfully shy, she reluctantly hauled out a few of her “old Indian pictures,” experimental works that set faithful renderings of the totem poles and war canoes of the Haida Gwaii against dynamic, impressionistic landscapes. Brown was besotted. On the spot, he offered to feature her work in an upcoming exhibit in Ottawa focusing on modern Canadian landscape painters, including the Group of Seven. Carr, who’d never heard of the National Gallery or the loose collective of artists who had won international acclaim at the British Empire Exhibition three years earlier, initially declined the invitation. Brown recommended that she read A Canadian Art Movement: The Story of the Group of Seven, by Fred Housser, a Toronto journalist and good friend of the group. After he left, having secured her participation, Carr dashed to the bookstore.

more from Brett Grainger at The Walrus here.