Emily Carr, edited by Kathryn Bridge
In vibrant prose and revealing detail, Emily Carr records delightful and insightful moments and encounters from her own life history.
Culled from the handwritten pages in old-fashioned scribblers and almost-forgotten typescripts amid drafts for her published stories, Unvarnished features among the last unpublished and highly personal writings of the iconic Canadian author and artist Emily Carr.
This highly readable manuscript—edited by Royal BC Museum curator emerita Kathryn Bridge and illustrated with sketches and photographs from the BC Archives—spans nearly four decades, from 1899 to 1944. In an almost stream-of-consciousness outpouring of stories, Carr chronicles her early years as an art student in England, her life-altering sojourn in France and subsequent travels to Indigenous villages along the coast, her encounters with the Group of Seven, conversations with artist Lawren Harris, and her sketching trips in the “Elephant” caravan in the company of a quirky menagerie. Also included are stories written in hospital recovering from a stroke, a particularly vulnerable time in her life.
Emily Carr’s books have remained in nearly continuous print since the 1940s. Unvarnished is a fresh addition to her enduring oeuvre, to be enjoyed as a complement to her other writings or as a jewel in its own right.
“The BC Archives hold drawings and sketches by Carr that go back to the 1880s, and, in two inserted signatures of colour plates, Bridge has curated a range of handsomely reproduced images rarely or never seen before. Some are youthful works, comical drawings with funny, awkwardly rhyming poems; political cartoons; and sketches that often poke fun at herself and her sisters. … Kathryn Bridge has done us all a great service, bringing a more fully realized Emily Carr to life; here she is, unvarnished and alive.”
—Colin Browne, writer and documentary filmmaker, in The BC Review
Linda Pennells –
RBCM curator emerita Kathryn Bridge presents a carpet of rich context that enables readers to better experience the real, raw Emily Carr in Unvarnished: Autobiographical Sketches by Emily Carr. The book is based on two of Emily’s notebooks as well as vignettes and sketches created largely for her own and her friends’ amusement.
The lack of polish is the book’s strength. Free from over-editing, Emily’s strengths and vulnerabilities are palpable. The early death of her parents, poor health and the daily grind to pay her mortgage all sapped her energy. Painting was her passion yet, for periods of months and years, her brushes had to be set aside.
Pursuing her art cost her deeply. Rejection of the man she loved. Dismissal by her sisters, who loved her, but never hung her art in the family home. Public ridicule of her post-impressionist art in her home community, Victoria.
The book dives into Emily’s fortitude and how the natural world, writing when she was not allowed to paint, animals and pivotal people nurtured that strength. One finishes this book awed at her courage, including her courage to be a non-conformist. She jarred local society: she smoke, she refused to marry, she rode horses astride, she spoke out against the harm of residential schools and much more.
This is an engaging read into this intriguing icon of Canadian art.