Emily Carr is an unpretentious Canadian writer and author of Klee Wyck, as well as being a famous British Columbia painter. Emily Carr is known across the world for her vivid depictions of the forests and totem poles of the First Nations she visited. In her book Klee Wyck she writes about the places and people she met while drawing.
Klee Wyck is dedicated to her friend Sophie, a First Nations woman who sold baskets, and had 21 babies who did not survive. Emily Carr and Sophie visited each other’s homes and Sophie named one of her babies after Emily. Respect and a sense of humour marked the interactions that Emily Carr had with the First Nations peoples she encountered.
Klee Wyck won the 1941 Governor General Gold Medal. The book is an enjoyable read as it blends her social commentary with descriptive snippets of her life in British Columbia. Readers see glimpses of the old villages of Skedans, Tanoo and Cumshewa on the Queen Charlotte Islands, now called Haida G’waii.
Klee Wyck is also the name Emily Carr was given by some Ucluelet First Nations people and means “Laughing One”. Emily Carr once had her face examined by an elder who aptly told her she was fearless, “not stuck up and you know how to laugh.” Bears, cougars and other potential dangers did not deter her. She was recording ancient beauty.
Emily often asked to be dropped off with her dog in remote or abandoned villages so she could paint their surroundings and carvings. She gained the trust of those she wrote about because of the respect she showed them. Emily did not paint any portraits of older people after realizing they feared their spirits would be trapped in their pictures after death. She has a moving explanation as to why totem poles were carved and what happened to them once they were taken away to museums.
Emily Carr’s love of the land, her ability to see beauty in the forests and the respectful way in which she interacted with the first peoples of the land shines through the pages of Klee Wyck. I heartily recommend you find a copy.