JMW Turner the source Grant T William Edwards

James Bay, Victoria, Canada G. T. Wm. Edwards

     28 January MMIII

Lest We Forget: 75th Anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the Discovery of Victoria’s Favourite Daughter Emily Carr, Her First Ever Meeting of the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group, et al. of the Canadian Art Establishment at the
West Coast Exhibition in Ottawa, Toronto and Montréal (December 1927-February 1928)

This month marks the mid-point of the West Coast art exhibition in Ottawa, Toronto and Montréal (December 1927-February 1928) of Emily Carr’s discovery by the Canadian art scene.  Emily, who first drew a sketch of her dog with fireplace charcoal in childhood, and studied art in San Francisco, England and France, waited fifty-five years for this breakthrough, a chance crafted by the colourful duo of a Québecer and Brooklyn, New Yorker.

On 18 November 1927, Brantford, Ontario, born
Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) of the Group of Seven spoke the prophetic words “You are one of us.” to the soon to soar Carr of Victoria (1871-1945).  Carr also wrote in her diary in Toronto that day “Surely a movement that has such men for its foundation must prevail and live and become an honoured glory to our land.  If I could pray, if I knew where to find a god to pray to, I would pray ‘God bless the Group of Seven.’''

Carr was busily meeting her Eastern colleagues from the Group of Seven fraternity and Beaver Hall Group sorority, et al., before her eleventh hour inclusion in the ground breaking “Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art - Native and Modern”, which opened at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, in December 1927, travelling later to Toronto and Montréal.

As if by silent revolution, this watershed event in Canadian fine art forged three abiding spans of unity in Canada’s arts community - cultural, gender and geographic - with largely anonymous First Nations masterpieces juxtaposed with their counterparts from the best of the all-Canadian art establishment.

Lest we forget, this auspicious benchmark in Canadian art history evolved from the grassroots Canadian-American teamwork and diplomacy of an ethnologist and painter. Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Québec, born Rhodes Scholar Dr. Charles Marius Barbeau (1883-1969) and Brooklyn, New York, born Wilfred Langdon Kihn (1898-1957), who first collaborated in the Skeena River Project in 1924, crystallized the transformation of this field work into the 1927-1928 show.

Emily Carr did not experience the Allied Victory in Europe Day, passing away at Saint Mary’s Priory, Victoria, 2 March 1945. Carr bequeathed her painting supplies to her friend, fellow artist and Nootka Chief George Clutesi, passing the torch for the ensuing renaissance in Northwest Coast aboriginal art.  That gift is now a collection at Maltwood Gallery, University of Victoria.  And twenty pieces by and from Kihn’s estate collection are now at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa, a benefaction by the writer’s family to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Carr’s discovery and the “Great Art Bridges of Canada (ABCs)”.

Lawren Harris’ son Captain Lawren Phillips Harris (1910-1994) of Canada’s Armoured Corps served in Canada, Britain and Italy from 1941.  As an official war artist (1943-1946), Lawren Harris Jr.’s scenes of the Battles of Ortona and Liri Valley are kept at the Canadian War Museum.

French impressionism between the World Wars jumped international borders, fostering the “Great ABCs” in our country.

This Diamond Jubilee has been nicely bookended by the “Carr O’Keeffe and Kahlo • Places of Their Own” (featuring the top female artists of Canada, America and Mexico) and “Thomson” exhibitions, both at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2002, and the “Post-Impressionist Master Works” showing at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until March 2nd.  In all of this, Carr has reached the international respect of which she always dreamed, earned and deserves.

I raise a glass and propose a resounding toast of congratulations to the spirit of Victoria’s favourite daughter Emily Carr!

Alas, the impressionistic serenity of Canada’s wilderness landscapes, First Nations and other village scenes continue providing solace in times of world crisis, emanating messages of peace and good will.

G. T. Wm. Edwards,
Director, Incunabula Research and Restoration Inc.
Victoria, Canada                                                                   
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