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Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern

Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1927.
National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives

Exhibiting Carr


Students explore the legacy of Emily Carr, arguably one of Canada's most famous artists.

Description of Activity:

Students plan a thematic exhibition of Carr's works, based on one of the many different ways of looking at her paintings.


2 weeks of class time
Independent research time

Background Information for Teachers:

Participating in an exhibition is one way that an artist can establish his or her reputation. While Emily Carr exhibited work in the Salon d'Automne during her time in France and in smaller exhibitions upon her return to Victoria, her first opportunity to showcase her work in a prominent Canadian art gallery came in 1927. That year, Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery in Ottawa, invited Carr to include her First Nations imagery in the landmark exhibition Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern.

Exhibitions are often organized around themes to highlight works of art in a particular way. How works are selected and displayed, how much information is presented to the viewer and what type of programming is available to the public are important elements to consider when visiting a gallery or museum. In Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern, the National Gallery chose to exhibit the work of First Nations artists and non-First Nations artist like Carr side by side, in order to emphasize similarities in composition and artists' techniques instead of arranging them according to cultural considerations.

Preparation for Teachers:

Materials for Students:


Part I

  • Explain what an exhibition is and discuss the work involved in planning one.
  • Show students a photograph of the exhibition Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern. Have them describe what they see. What types of works were included (paintings, sculpture, textiles)? Is there any information on the walls about these works? How is this exhibition similar to or different from others that students have seen?
  • Select a theme for students to use in planning an exhibition of Carr's works. Ask them to choose from the following options: an exhibition in which they look at how Carr's works have changed over time; an exhibition in which they investigate the different artists' materials used by Carr; an exhibition in which they examine works illustrating a particular subject (trees, totem poles, portraits, etc.); an exhibition devoted to an idea or concept (motion, destruction, spirituality, etc.).
  • Divide students into four groups. Assign each group to design an exhibition of five to ten works by the artist. Students will need to:
    • Select a theme
    • Research and select works
    • Produce a label for each work that lists its title, date and materials
    • Decide what additional information visitors to their exhibition might need
    • Arrange the works in a way that is easily accessible and invites visitors to compare one work to another

Part II

  • Have each group appoint a curator, a public programs coordinator, an exhibition designer and a marketing specialist. Provide each group with a copy of the resource material (see Appendix) that follows this activity. Students may double up on the duties if necessary.
  • Ensure that students are clear on their duties and that they understand the need for communications and co-operation.
  • Direct each group to the Vancouver Art Gallery's Emily Carr web site and instruct them to select five to ten works that reflect the theme of their exhibition.
  • Have each group select a place in the school to set up and display their exhibition: main hallway, library, main entrance, art room, music room, etc.
  • Allow class time for each student to carry out his or her assigned duties. Make sure you are available to answer any questions that students may have and to offer guidance as their projects progress.
  • Host an opening for the exhibitions. Students can distribute invitations or post flyers around the school prior to the event. The curator in each group will be responsible for introducing the group's exhibition at the opening.


  • As a class, discuss each group's exhibition. Is it successful, in their view? Why or why not? Is the relationship between the proposed theme and selected works clear? How are the works arranged? How are they displayed? Did the exhibition add to their understanding of Emily Carr's work? Would their response to the exhibition be different if one work had been left out? If the works had been arranged differently?

Appendix: Resource on gallery roles