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Klee Wyck

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PENGUIN CLASSICS

KLEE WYCK

EMILY CARR
was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1871. In 1890, after the death of her parents, she went to San Francisco to study art at the California School of Design, and in 1898, she made her first visit to the Nuu’chah’nulth (Nootka) village of Hitats’uu near Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, where she sketched Native subject matter. Carr’s desire to deepen her studies took her to England in 1899 and to France in 1910 when the Paris art world was bursting into modernism. She began to paint the totem poles of the Tlingit in Alaska in 1907, the Kwakiutl along the British Columbia Coast in 1908, and the Coast Tsimshian, the Gitksan villages of the Upper Skeena River, and the Haida villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1912. She was invited to submit her works for the landmark 1927 exhibition “Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern” at the National Gallery in Ottawa, which included paintings by the Group of Seven. This marked the beginning of her long and valuable association with the Group. An accomplished writer, Carr wrote a number of books, including
The House of All Sorts
,
Growing Pains
, and
The Heart of a Peacock
, but is best known for
Klee Wyck
, which won the Governor General’s Award in 1941. Carr died in 1945 in Victoria, British Columbia.

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Penguin Classics edition copyright © Penguin Group (Canada), 2006.

This edition is an unabridged reprint of
Klee Wyck
, published in 1941 by Oxford

University Press.

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ISBN-13: 978-0-670-06540-0

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CONTENTS

Foreword

Ucluelet

Tanoo

Skedans

Cumshewa

Sophie

D’So

The Blouse

The Stare

Greenville

Two Bits and a Wheel-Barrow

Sleep

Sailing to Yan

Cha-atl

Wash Mary

Juice

Friends

Martha’s Joey

Salt Water

Century Time

Kitwancool

Canoe

F
OREWORD

“If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue. Yet to good wine they do use good bushes: and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then that am neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in behalf of a good play ...”

My plight is much less difficult than Rosalind’s. I am not an epilogue at all, good or bad—in fact I should hate to be an epilogue. I have no other function to perform than to open the door for you and invite you into a new experience. I am also in better case than she, if we may trust her own statement, in that I can insinuate with you in behalf of a good book.

I
T SEEMS ALMOST
an impertinence that I should tell readers who Miss Carr is—my brief note concerning her must seek its justification in the fact that in the present volume she makes her very first appearance as a literary figure.

Born almost seventy years ago in Victoria of English parentage, Emily Carr is a thorough-going, downright Canadian. She early gave evidence of unusual interest and talent in drawing, promise richly realized in the ample and distinguished achievement of her painting. In her early teens she ventured into the then reputedly wicked city of San Francisco to train at the Art School there. With the exception of that period, a sojourn of some years in England and another in France, Miss Carr has lived her whole life in Western Canada which she loves with deep loyalty. Here she has worked at her art with singular devotion and courage despite the indifference and, at times, even hostility of her friends and fellow citizens. Perhaps it is because of public neglect of her early work that she developed in her painting a style so individual and sincerely personal that it seems to me presumptuous to try to analyze it, looking as usual for influences and tendencies, and quite futile to come with labels all ready to smack onto this Canadian woman’s vital, vivid work.

T
O A FEW
of her closest friends it became known some time ago that Miss Carr had for years been writing, setting down in simple, unaffected prose, early experiences of her childhood in Victoria or later adventures in Indian villages of the British Columbia Coast. This writing has been done for no other reason than to provide occasional escape and relaxation for the artist, or, at times, to fix clearly in her mind sequences of events and impressions of people and places, the edges of which might become dim. It has none of the too frequent self-consciousness which makes tedious reading of reminiscences prepared intentionally for the public.

Klee Wyck
is made up of sketches written at various times and brought together and published now for the first time. Long ago when it was her habit in summers to go into wild, lonely places seeking Indian subjects, Miss Carr’s artist mind received impressions which have remained sharp and real for her across the years. By fish-boat, gas-boat,
sometimes by Indian canoe, taking with her a few books, at least one dog and her sketching kit, she penetrated forest and village on the British Columbia coast, even going on occasion over to the Queen Charlottes. The vivid images stored then in her mind have been brooded over since by her rich imaginative faculty and the result is an unusual collection of sketches, this time in words, not paint.

The name
Klee Wyck
is in itself interesting and a word of explanation is perhaps justifiable. It was the name which the Indians gave Miss Carr at Ucluelet. It meant “Laughing One” and was given to her not because she laughed a great deal—as she herself would say, there is not much of “giggle” in her. But her laughter in Ucluelet went out to meet the Indians, taking the place of words, forming a bond between them. They felt at once that the young girl staying in the missionaries’ house understood them and they accepted her.…

But you will think me a churlish porter if I any longer hold closed the door and exclude you from a gallery through which I have myself moved with delight.

Ira Dilworth

Vancouver, B.C.

October, 1941.

U
CLUELET

The lady missionaries expected me. They sent an enormous Irishman in a tiny canoe to meet the steamer. We got to the Ucluelet wharf soon after dawn. Everything was big and cold and strange to me,
a fifteen-year old school-girl
. I was the only soul on the wharf. The Irishman did not have any trouble deciding which was I.

It was low tide, so there was a long, sickening ladder with slimy rungs to climb down to get to the canoe. The man’s big laugh and the tippiness of the canoe were even more frightening than the ladder. The paddle in his great arms rushed the canoe through the waves.

We came to Toxis, which was the Indian name for the Mission House. It stood just above high-tide water. The sea was in front of it and the forest behind.

The house was of wood, unpainted. There were no blinds or curtains. It looked, as we paddled up to it, as if it were stuffed with black. When the canoe stuck in the mud, the big Irishman picked me up in his arms and set me down on the doorstep.

The missionaries were at the door. Smells of cooking fish jumped out past them. People lived on fish at Ucluelet.

Both the missionaries were dignified, but the Greater Missionary had the most dignity: the Lesser Missionary was fussy. They had long pale faces. Their hair was licked from their foreheads back to buns on the scruffs of their necks. They had long noses straddled by spectacles, thin lips, mild eyes, and wore straight, dark dresses buttoned to the chin.

There was only two of everything in the kitchen, so I had to sit on a box, drink from a bowl and eat my food out of a tin pie-dish.

After breakfast came a long Presbyterian prayer. Outside the kitchen window, just a few feet away at the edge of the forest, stood a grand balsam pine tree. It was very tall and straight.

The sizzling of the Missionaries’ “trespasses” jumped me back from the pine tree to the
Lord’s Prayer
just in time to “Amen.” We got up from our knees to find the house full of Indians. They had come to look at me.

I felt so young and empty standing there before the Indians and the two grave Missionaries! The Chief, old Hipi, was held to be a reader of faces. He perched himself on the top of the Missionaries’ drug cupboard; his brown fists clutched the edge of it, his elbows taut and shoulders hunched. His crumpled shoes hung loose as if they dangled from strings and had no feet in them. The stare of his eyes searched me right through. Suddenly they were done; he lifted them above me to the window, uttered several terse sentences in
Chinook,
jumped off the cupboard and strode back to the village.

I was half afraid to ask the Missionary, “What did he say?”

“Not much. Only that you had no fear, that you were not stuck up, and that you knew how to laugh.”

T
OXIS SAT UPON
a long, slow lick of sand, but the beach of the Indian village was short and bit deep into the shoreline. Rocky points jutted out into the sea at either end of it.

Toxis and the village were a mile apart. The school house was half-way between the two and, like them, was pinched between sea and forest.

The school house called itself “church house” on Sundays, and looked as Presbyterian as it could under the circumstances.

It had a sharp roof, two windows on each side, a door in front, and a woodshed behind.

The school equipment consisted of a map of the world, a blackboard, a stove, crude desks and benches and, on a box behind the door, the pail of drinking-water and a tin dipper.

BOOK: Klee Wyck
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