On today’s date in 1871, Canadian painter and author Emily Carr was born in Victoria, B.C.
Despite some setbacks during her life (she was one of the first to adopt a modernist, post-impressionist painting style in Canada and went largely unappreciated until late in her life), she was eventually acknowledged as one of Canada’s most significant contemporary artists. Today, her depictions of Pacific Northwest Coast native villages and artifacts help to preserve these cultures’ changing ways of life; at the time, her haunting portrayals of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest Coast created a new mythos of the west-coast wilderness.
2014 THREE-COIN SET
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a three-coin set commemorating Carr’s totem-themed work. This set includes a $20 Fine silver coin featuring a detail from her 1930 oil painting, Totem Forest; a $200 pure gold coin featuring a detail from her 1930 watercolour and graphite work, Zunoqua; and a $300 pure platinum coin featuring a detail from her 1941-1942 oil painting, A Skidegate Beaver Pole. The obverse of each coin features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.
Carr’s earliest encounters with the monumental totem poles of the Northwest Coast peoples began on her early forays along the coast of British Columbia. From these journeys, Carr produced sketches and on-the-spot watercolours that inspired or became many of the works for which she is now famous. She worked from life, and rarely from photos. Each pole in her work is one she stood before in person—studying, absorbing, and becoming “personally acquainted” with, according to her own words. It was on her well-known 1912 trip she committed herself to preserving these First Nations artifacts through her work. She undertook a further painting trip in 1928, from which she produced several major totem works, including Totem Forest.
2013 ULTRA-HIGH RELIEF COIN
In 2013, the Mint commemorated Carr on a ultra-high relief collector coin composed of five kilograms of Fine silver. This coin celebrates Carr’s watercolour Tsatsisnukomi, B.C., 1912.
“The Vancouver Art Gallery is thrilled that one of the Carr paintings in the Gallery’s permanent collection has been celebrated by the Royal Canadian Mint on such a remarkable coin,” said Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Today, Tsatsisnukomi, B.C., 1912 is housed at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which maintains the world’s most important collections of original Emily Carr works.
The 2013 Carr coin was created by engravers Christie Paquet and Stan Witten. The central image of a mystical bird makes the totem pole rise from the coin’s surface. In the background, a combination of frostings captures the masterful shading of the original painting. The image is surrounded by an outer band evoking the cross-sectional grain of a cedar log, over which Emily Carr’s name and life span (1871-1946) appear. Only 100 coins were minted.
Carr suffered a heart attack and died on March 2, 1945, at the James Bay Inn in her hometown of Victoria, B.C.