From The Islander

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The Famous Artist Next Door (Part Two)

August 5th, 2010 · No Comments · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Emily Carr on the porch of 316 Beckley Avenue.

After Emily Carr moved into the rundown cottage on Beckley street in James Bay, next to Bert Hudson’s house, relationships between the new neighbour’s were not always peaceable. Hudson explains

Really Miss Carr could not have chosen a less likely family to live beside. My father was a stubborn pioneer from the Canadian Prairie.  Painting and other cultural activities held little interest for him. Miss Carr, with her back ground of European education in the arts and her emphasis on cultural expression, contrasted vividly with his down-to-earth realism. A clash was not long in developing. From my perch in the apple tree one afternoon Miss Carr sent me scurrying with the command:

“Get your father out here to the fence immediately!” Startled, I stammered “Y-y-y-yes ma’am,” jumped down and rushed inside.

All unknowing, my father followed me into the yard where Miss Carr fixed him with a fearsome gaze and demanded an explanation of why her yard was filling with water. My father attempted to explain to her how in this land she would have to dig ditches as he had done; but there was no meeting of the minds and with much snorting and grumbling they both stomped off into their respective houses and my father vowed never to have anything more to do with Miss Carr.

Overtime relations between the neighbours gradually improved. After striking up a friendship with Emily over a pet kitten, Hudson’s sister Phyllis began to visit Carr regularly.

As the summer rolled on my sister brought back tales almost nightly that she recounted at the dinner table. The monkey, Woo particularly fascinated us and over and over again we had Phyllis describe the little fellow whose eating habits were so “persnickity” as Miss Carr put it.

Emily and Woo.

“Miss Carr was eating a kipper for her supper,” Phyllis said, “and she gave a whole one to the monkey. He sat there and picked it clean, licking his fingers between every bite. He’s real fond of lettuce too and Miss Carr buys him heads of it.”

Unfortunately Woo had a pretty bad temper and only Miss Carr could actually handle him.

One day as my mother held the board in the fence open for my sister to squeeze through Miss Carr said suddenly:

“You sew don’t you Mrs. Hudson?”

“Well yes I do,” my mother said modestly. Unlike my father, my mother was awed by this lady.

“Well then make me two nightgowns,” Miss Carr demanded. And my mother did , following the brusque instructions with her usual gentleness. We wondered, but my mother said quietly:

“I don’t think Miss Carr has much in the way of worldly goods.” And so started a warm friendship which in those days I could never understand, for it involved a sort of old world relationship. My mother and eventually my father sort of took under their wing a number of practical requirements for this dedicated lady, who, somehow, took for granted their little services, and I suppose to some extent considered it right and proper so that she could continue with her art. Now twenty years later, I think perhaps she was right.

On Phyllis’s birthday, Carr helped out with the party

There was great excitement the day my sister was given a birthday party. Miss Carr made the candies herself, and personally painted the place cards. It was a most unusual party altogether and my sister was overjoyed. Among her presents was a book – inside was the giver’s name, “Woo the Monkey.”

Over the fence to my father’s consternation, were passed the other gifts: two bantam hens! (My father had been trying to chase the small flock out of his seed bed for weeks. Was this a touch of irony?) Amid much muttering and grumbling about the appropriateness of such gifts for children he set about building a pen.

During her time at Beckley street, Carr’s health began to deteriorate. At one point she had to be taken to hospital suffering from heart angina. While Emily was away, Bert was tasked with taking care of the Carr Menagerie

I came into the limelight as a caretaker for the pates. I’m normally pretty good with animals and always had dogs or other pets to care for; but feeding the menage next door had its own problems. The little family of Belgian Griffin pups refused to accept anyone other than Miss Carr. Twice a day as I fed them and talked with them they yapped nervously and would only approach the dish when I was yards distant. However they never bit me, which is more than I can say for Woo. This little fellow was plain bad tempered and I guess it was only by the greatest luck and agility snatching away my hand that I am still able to call for four beers without having to use two hands. All I got was a nick and a good cursing as he hurled chunks of banana and half a head of lettuce in my direction.

Despite her ailing health, Carr continued to paint and would still undertake expeditions to Sooke and Saanich to paint the deep dark woods and big trees she loved so much. In this final excerpt, Hudson describes excursions with Emily Carr

"Cathedral," 1937

In the summer,…Miss Carr was off …to paint. She no longer traveled by canoe and pack horse into Indian villages. a gravel pit near Sooke, about 30 miles up the west coast of Vancouver Island became her headquarters.

Miss Carr had a caravan, rather like the old Gypsies, and this she would get towed out to the gravel pit, then summoning my father on the day her entourage was ready – dogs, monkeys, parrots, boxes and paints they would sally into the country.

I think now my father looked forward to these commands although she still ticked him off on occasions.

Carr at the door of her Caravan.

There was one…trip on which we took Emily Carr and her pets, and I believe it was en route to Sooke. The woman we visited paled as Emily swept into her living room – complete with a vulture. The evil looking bird could scare anyone who looked into its cold eyes. “Oh he won’t hurt anyone,” Miss Carr exclaimed and proceeded to tie him to the table leg, I often wonder how much of the conversation the woman subsequently absorbed for she was obviously frightened of the huge predator.

After a serious heart attack in 1939, Carr moved back in with her sister Alice. During the forties, her main creative focus shifted painting to writing. In 1941 she was able to see her first book the Governor General Award winning”Klee Wyck” published. She died several years later on March 2 1945, leaving behind a considerable artistic legacy of both influential paintings and written works.

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