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Forest, British Columbia

Forest, British Columbia, 1931–1932
oil on canvas
130.0 x 86.8 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.9
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Old and New Forest

Old and New Forest, 1931-1932
oil on canvas
112.2 x 69.8 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.23
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky

Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1935
oil on canvas
112.0 x 68.9 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.15
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Different Ways of Looking


Students learn about Emily Carr's landscape paintings.

Description of Activity:

Students participate in a drawing exercise, approaching the same landscape from multiple viewpoints, using Emily Carr as a model.


1 session, 60 minutes

Background Information for Teachers:

Emily Carr was born in 1871 to British parents who had settled in Victoria. She described herself as a child who preferred to play in the barn rather than the nursery. Her love of nature remained an integral part of her life and influenced the course of her work as an artist, not only in her subject, but also in her enthusiasm for sketching outdoors.

Carr's desire to depict the landscape of British Columbia reflects the idea that first-hand observation is crucial to creating an authentic image, a conviction shared by many artists. She did her work at a time when Canadian artists such as the Group of Seven began using nature as a symbol for national identity. Although she was not tied closely to the Group of Seven, many authors argue that Carr's forest scenes evoke a sense of what it means to be Canadian. There are many different ways to interpret Carr's work: her paintings may convey an environmental message, a spiritual meaning or a sense of isolation.

Preparation for Teachers:

Materials for Students:


Part I

  • Introduce students to Carr's work by showing them Forest, British Columbia, 1931–32, Old and New Forest, 1931–1932, and Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1935. Have them describe what they see. Focus their attention on the setting, the viewpoint assumed by the artist, the arrangement of the various elements in each painting, the types of brushstrokes or lines used by Carr, the colours that she selected, etc.
  • Share information about Carr's life, her love of nature and her interest in portraying the landscape of British Columbia. Read students the excerpt from Carr's journals (see Appendix) that follows this activity.

Part II

  • Explain to students that since Carr's death, the artists and scholars who study her work have interpreted it in many different ways. Some see Carr as a painter working to reveal Canada's identity, others see her as an environmental advocate or as a feminist role model trying to change the way women were perceived and treated.
  • Divide the class into four groups, assigning each group one of the perspectives discussed above (Canadian identity, environmentalism, spiritual meaning, sense of isolation, feminist role model).
  • Pass out reproductions of Carr's paintings to each group.
  • Invite the groups to consider Carr's work from the perspective they have been assigned: for instance, what do Carr's paintings say about being Canadian? If these works were approached as examples of Canadian art, what characteristics point to what it is like to live in Canada?
  • Have students designate one or more members of their group to take notes on the ideas that they discussed.


  • Share some of the different perspectives on Carr's paintings of trees. Involve students in a discussion about the interpretation of her work. Ask them what Carr's work means to them.
  • Have students discuss how they went about interpreting the landscape presented to them from a particular perspective. What kinds of questions did they have about the work? How do the ideas they were considering make them see the paintings differently?

Appendix: quotes by and about Emily Carr