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Lawren Harris and Ira Dilworth at the Vancouver Art Gallery at the time of the opening of the new Emily Carr Memorial Galleries

Lawren Harris and Ira Dilworth at the Vancouver Art Gallery at the time of the opening of the new Emily Carr Memorial Galleries, 1951
Vancouver Art Gallery Archives

Vancouver Art Gallery and the Emily Carr Trust

When Lawren Harris first questioned Emily Carr about how she planned to distribute her paintings after her death, she allegedly replied, "Give them to the old folks' home. I suppose they would put them in the basement, and there they would rot."1 Worried about the safety and care of Carr's work, Harris worked with Ira Dilworth to devise the Emily Carr Trust Collection. Dilworth became Carr's literary executor; Harris and the anthropologist William Newcombe helped Carr select a group of paintings to bequeath to the people of British Columbia. A second group of work was reserved for sale to finance the Emily Carr Scholarship, an award for young artists who wanted to advance their art education.2

Carr selected the Vancouver Art Gallery to house her Trust. Victoria did not have a major public gallery at the time, and she was fond of A.S. Grigsby, then curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, who had supported her work and been instrumental in establishing her solo shows at the Gallery. The Trust consisted originally of about fifty paintings, mostly canvases, including many of Carr's most famous works, such as Big Raven and Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.

After Carr's death in 1945, Newcombe and Harris again examined the contents of her studio, and Harris divided the remaining works into three groups: those to be destroyed, those to be sold and those to be added to the Trust and Scholarship collections. Marked for destruction was a large body of sketch material and juvenilia, but luckily for future generations of Carr scholars and enthusiasts, Newcombe saved the work and eventually sold the collection in its entirety to the Government of British Columbia, to be housed in the Provincial Archives.3 Harris was unable to sell Carr's paintings as quickly as he had hoped, so he made further additions to the Trust collection out of the works slated for sale.

During World War II, fearing that the west coast might be invaded, Harris shipped the collection to the Art Gallery of Toronto for safekeeping. When the Vancouver Art Gallery prepared to relocate to a new, expanded location in 1951, a gallery was reserved for the continual display of Carr's work, and the works were physically transferred to the Vancouver Art Gallery in about 1950.4

The final Trust collection of almost two hundred works is the largest assemblage of Carr's works except for that of the BC Archives, and it is unparalleled in quality. Especially rich in work from the 1930s and early 1940s, it offers the complete range of her artistic production, including watercolours, canvases, oil-on-paper works and charcoal drawings. The Vancouver Art Gallery receives a steady stream of requests for loans of pieces in the Carr collection, and this group of artworks remains a significant component of the Gallery's holdings. A selection of her work is almost always on display in the gallery, and her life and work continue to inspire and captivate new generations of artists, scholars, students and art lovers around the world.5

1 Lawren Harris, "Introduction: Paintings by Emily Carr," 100 Years of BC Art (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1958), n.p.
2 Ian Thom, "The Emily Carr Trust 1991," Emily Carr (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1991), p. 9. In her will Carr gave discretionary power to her trustees to select the recipients of the award and to determine the value. Early recipients chosen by Lawren Harris included Joe Plaskett, E.J. Hughes and Takao Tanabe. The Emily Carr Trust, which included the scholarship provision, was terminated in March 1966 when all rights were transferred to the Vancouver Art Gallery. See "Emily Carr Trust--Correspondence," Vancouver Art Gallery Archives.
3 Thom, "Emily Carr Trust," p. 10.
4 Thom, "Emily Carr Trust," p. 10.
5 Thom, "Emily Carr Trust," p. 11.