Emily Carr is widely regarded as the dominant figure in British Columbia art in the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps this is why BC politicians championed the idea of the Vancouver School of Arts’ new name honouring Carr as the province’s most significant artist of the day. Although she was associated with the Group of Seven artists, and close to Frederick Varley and Lawren Harris, both early modernists, she was never a member of this now classic group.
It would be interesting to know what Carr would have thought about the Emily Carr University of Art and Design today. In 1898 Carr made the first of many now legendary sketching and painting trips to Aboriginal villages on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I think she would have been pleased with the recognition and inclusion of First Nations’ art and design studies, current emphasis on “green” practice and application, not to mention the significant number of women instructors on staff. There is no doubt also that she would be amazed by the modern use of digital tools and their ubiquitous influence on local and global art and culture.
Although Emily Carr never taught at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, her spirit, art, intellect, and popular lore played an important role in the development of culture in BC and Canada during the 1920s. Her presence continues even now, made obvious in material form by Woo, the student publication, playfully named after her pet monkey.
Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (1925)
In 1926, Charles Hepburn Scott, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art (1909), was appointed first director of the Vancouver School. Jock Macdonald, graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, Italian sculptor Charles Marega, painter Kate Hoole, and Scott’s sister-in-law Grace Melvin, also from the Glasgow School, and Frederick Varley, a founding member of the Group of Seven, were all hired by Scott.As might be expected, Scott and Melvin brought with them from Glasgow the aesthetics and interests of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the Arts and Crafts movement, Japonism, and Art Nouveau. Writer Louise Aird in her blog (louiseaird.com) noted that, “Varley and Macdonald indignantly resigned from the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts and opened the BC College of Arts, taking half the student body with them.” Historian Joyce Zemans described the curriculum in these words: “The school [BC College of Arts] was dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to the arts and to the integration of eastern and western philosophy. Music flowed through the studios and metaphysics dominated the discussions.”2
Vancouver School of Art (1933)
Vancouver School of Art (1933) The Depression, World War II, and limited resources all had a profound effect upon talented students and teachers through the 1930s and into the immediate post-war period, when painting flourished as abstraction became known to the students through instructors such as Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt.
Perspectives changed again when Fred Amess became principal upon the retirement of Charles Scott. He believed in the importance of crafts and hired ceramists such as Reg Dixon and David Lambert who took promising students to St. Ives in England to study with their mentor Bernard Leach. Soon, a new building in the sixties brought modernism and large open studios, skylights, high ceilings, and well-equipped workshops, along with hard-edge abstraction, while pop and op art soon found a place in the studios. At the same time, practices were becoming increasingly multidisciplinary with photography and film animation, performance, and installation art. Grading was largely eliminated; formal drawing classes and art history were optional.
Emily Carr College of Art (1978)
When the Vancouver School of Art was renamed the Emily Carr College of Art in 1978, faculty and students of the time protested the new name. It was felt that Carr’s name did not represent the contemporary nature of the school as it moved into new premises on Granville Island. By the late 1980s, the Granville Island premises were too small to accommodate the burgeoning number of students. The south building was added in 1994, providing for a larger library to acknowledge the new degree-granting status (Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Design), which brought about another change of name from College to Institute (now University) during this period of growth and much greater visibility. If the 1980s had focused on issues of gender, the 1990s emphasized cultural diversity and sexual orientation. A student exchange program began; technology became the primary toolbox for design and media practices as the commitment to the digital world began to redefine the university’s place in culture, art, and commerce, with innovative and experimental courses and approaches as suggested by the student profiles included here.
Excerpted from Spring/Summer 2014 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.
Sam Carter is professor emeritus at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, British Columbia.
1 Concept and design, Susan Point, 2007; from www.gg.ca.
2 75 Years of Collecting; from projects.
ECUAD graduate, Master of Applied Arts
As a professional trained in fashion design and textiles prior to my studies at ECUAD, I had completed my BFA in printmaking and sculpture in 2009. It was during this time that the Intersections Digital Media Studios acquired an industrial embroidery machine. From here, I found myself enrolled in the MAA, Master of Applied Arts program, 2010-2013. This decision encouraged an ability to combine my professional studio practice with research meant to explore concepts and applications for waste materials through acts of mending. The next generation at ECUAD can look forward to being in an environment in which creative thinking will lead down pathways that offer up opportunities never imagined.
Fourth-year student, Animation
I’ve always been fascinated by the Soviet school of sculpting, particularly the work coming out of the Stroganov school in the 1970s, which was built around the idea of sculpture being a kind of stylized, almost architectural interpretation of the human body. My practice has become evenly split between two disciplines: traditional sculpting and 3-D modelling for computer animation. I want to merge the two in my work. I hope that in the design of the new Great Northern Way campus now under development (2014-2017), an even stronger dialogue with students and industry professionals may be encouraged.
Charlotte Kennedy and Romney Shipway
Fourth-year students, Industrial Design
“The Three Stool” was a third-year collaborative industrial design project with the goal of using the least amount of material (western maple) to create maximum strength. In our practice, we consider the environmental impacts holistically in evaluating not only the quantity of material consumption but also the material itself and the processes used to create it. We feel that the experience at the Great Northern Way campus will build upon the creative workspace that is present at Emily Carr, but on a larger scale. It will offer a platform and comfortable space for people to work together in defining their art and design practices and creating a community around them.
Third-year student, Visual Arts
Over the past three years at ECUAD, I have had an opportunity to strengthen my traditional arts while learning from new materials, techniques, and cultural theory courses. My artistic practice includes traditional Kwakwaka’wakw-style button blankets, woodcarving, jewellery, and painting, and I am currently apprenticing in both wool and cedar bark weaving. My hopes for the future are continued growth of the Aboriginal student population, and curriculum that reflects their diverse artistic practices.