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"In the Cariboo"; artist Emily Carr on horseback during her visit to the Cariboo, c.1909
Photograph by Archibald Murchie
British Columbia Archives, I-51569
How Others See the Artist (Grades 6–7)
Students consider Emily Carr as a woman artist living in turn-of-the-century western Canada.
Description of Activity:
Beginning with a photograph of the artist, students research some of the challenges that faced Carr and other women living in Canada in the early decades of the twentieth century.
2 sessions, 60 minutes each
Independent research time
Background Information for Teachers:
In her writings, Emily Carr notes that she was not like other women in her day: instead of getting married and raising a family, she spent her time exploring the forest and painting. Her refusal to conform to social standards extended to other matters, from her religion and politics to her mode of dress.
Carr also maintained her individuality when it came to her life as an artist. She found the subjects women usually painted, such as floral arrangements and portraits, uninspiring, and her works on these subjects were by her own admission "humdrum and unemotional." Instead, Carr enrolled in art academies, which had traditionally been dominated by men, and tackled more "masculine" subjects such as landscapes and totem poles in her work. While there has been a tendency to label Carr as an eccentric because of her unconventional approach, in recent years her decisions have come to be understood in the context of the women's movement, with commentators and other artists looking to Carr as an early feminist role model.
Preparation for Teachers:
- Examine "In the Cariboo", a photograph of the artist taken in 1909.
- Carr appears here riding western style, a posture that was not common among women in this period.
- Read the excerpt from Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr (see Appendix) that follows this activity, recounting her impression of how others responded to her unorthodox behaviour.
Materials for Students:
- Reproduction of "In the Cariboo"
- Flip chart
- Pencils, pens
- Library resources
- Show students a reproduction of "In the Cariboo".
- Have them describe what they see. Where is Carr? What is she doing? What pose does she assume? How is she dressed? What else can they see in the photograph?
- Have students consider the photograph in relationship to what they know about women's lives in 1909. Was horseback riding a common pastime? Where did women spend most of their time? What were common careers for women?
- Make a list of activities that students think women could and could not do in Carr's day. You may wish to guide the discussion by suggesting topics: going to school, working outside of the home, voting, serving in the military, running for public office, etc.
- Ask students to conduct research at the library and on the Internet about what life was like in Canada for women around 1900. Were women in Canada permitted to vote? What were common jobs for women working outside the home? Were there other Canadian women artists at that time?
- Ask students to share what they have learned with the rest of the class.
- Review the changes in society that have taken place since Carr's lifetime.