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A Skidegate Pole

A Skidegate Pole, 1941-1942
oil on canvas
87.0 x 76.5 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.37
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

A Remarkable Woman

Objective:

Students learn about Emily Carr as a woman artist working in turn-of-the-century western Canada. Designed to expand both listening and oral communications skills, this activity also asks students to translate what they learn into written form.

Description of Activity:

Students examine a work by Carr and use it to discuss the changing role of women over time.

Duration:

2 sessions, 60 minutes each

Background Information for Teachers:

While there have always been women artists, not all of them have had the same opportunities to develop their skills or to showcase their work that men have had. In Canada, Emily Carr was part of the first generation of women to attend official art academies. She began her studies in San Francisco and went on to study art in England and Paris. As a student she encountered a number of obstacles to embarking on a career as a professional artist, not the least of which was her discomfort with drawing the nude body from life.

Nevertheless, Carr persisted in her ambitions, choosing the life of an artist over that of a wife and mother, the usual roles of women in her day. She was resolute in her decision, but her writing sometimes reveals a sense of loneliness and frustration at society's expectations. She also alludes to the dominance of male artists, especially the members of the Group of Seven. Some authors argue that Carr looked to male authority figures for approval of her own work. Whether or not this was the case, Carr's life and her career point out the divide that existed between men and women in her day and the implications that this had for her work as an artist.

Preparation for Teachers:

  • Examine A Skidegate Pole, 1941-1942.
  • Read the excerpts (Appendix 1) that follow this activity for an idea of some of the challenges that Carr faced as a woman artist.

Materials for Students:

  • Reproduction of A Skidegate Pole, 1941-1942 (one for each group)
  • Flip chart
  • Markers
  • Lined paper
  • Writing materials

Process:

  • Choose one or more of the excerpts (Appendix 1) that follow this activity and read them to the class, listing any words that are unfamiliar to students (and their definitions) on a flip chart.
  • Divide the class into four groups. Give each group a reproduction of A Skidegate Pole, 1941-1942, as well as a copy of the background information for students (Appendix 2) that follows this activity.
  • Ask each group to consider the following questions in relation to the image, using the information provided:
    • Do you think it would be easier for women today to do what Carr did? Explain why or why not.
    • Can you think of examples in today's world where men and women are expected to do certain things and not others?
    • Was it easier for the men or the women in your group to come to Canada to study/work?
    • Do you know what life was like for women in your home country in the 1920s and 1930s? Do you think a woman artist could have lived as Carr did, in your home country seventy years ago?
  • Have each group present their answers to the class.

Discussion:

  • Have each student write a paragraph summarizing what he or she has learned about Carr as a woman artist working in turn-of-the-century western Canada. Ask students to read their summaries to the class.

Further Engagement:

  • Screen the video The Other Side of the Picture, 1999, which discusses the challenges faced by women artists in Canada over the last 100 years. Ask students to write down any information that they feel is relevant to Carr. This information can be directly about the artist, or it can reflect the larger social realities that characterized the period in which Carr lived.

Appendix: quotes from Emily Carr
Appendix: resource on landscape painting