Ukee artist Marla Thirsk painted this portrait of Emily Carr entitled

Cultural Heritage Festival celebrates Emily Carr

“There’s a lot of history of Emily Carr painting here but it’s not necessarily well known,” Susan Payne told the Westerly News.

Few Canadian artists carry as much acclaim as Emily Carr whose connection to the West Coast is stronger than you might think.

Carr spent the late 1800’s painting and sketching with the Ucluelet First Nation, who honoured her with the name Klee Wyck, which means ‘The Laughing One.’

Carr’s local connection and legacy will be the focus of the Pacific Rim Arts Society’s fourth annual Cultural Heritage Festival running from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4—see a full schedule of events in this week’s Westerly News on newsstands now.

“Emily Carr really got herself engrained in First Nations culture and loved it,” festival coordinator Susan Payne told the Westerly News.

“This year we are celebrating not only her art, but the time she spent here and the fact that the Ucluelet First Nation were the ones who gave her the name Klee Wyck, which she was fiercely proud of.”

PRAS launched the Cultural Heritage Festival in 2013 to boost the West Coast’s artistic reputation and connect its communities, according to Payne.

“They believed that arts make people feel connected to each other, and to the rest of the community, so they got together and designed programs for a festival that provided opportunities for community members to meet, interact and socialize through cultural and art events,” she said.

“We’re trying to promote history through art, as opposed to just telling people about it.The vision was to provide a lively, diverse and self-sustaining arts and culture program that is an integral part of healthy and viable communities.”

This year’s weeklong festival will boast a variety of diverse events in Ucluelet, Tofino, Hitacu and the Pacific Rim National Park including a Totems and Trees Art Show from Aug. 31 to September 4 at the Tin Wis Resort’s Wickaninnish Conference Centre.

“We have invited artists from all over the place, that were influenced by Emily Carr in some way, to submit art and we’re getting some phenomenal submissions,” Payne said.

An art installation featuring artifacts on loan from the Emily Carr House in Victoria, as well as a detailed chronological story of the artist’s life, will be on display at the Pacific Rim National Park’s Kwisitis Visitors Centre.

“Unless you are a true Emily Carr fanatic, you will learn something at this festival,” Payne said.

“You will get to know her and, probably, really enjoy some of her stuff and learn how it influenced artists all over especially on Vancouver Island and up and down the coast. A lot of people don’t realize how much of an influence she has been to Canadian artists.”

She added Carr’s time on the West Coast is often glossed over, despite the fact that Carr named her autobiography Klee Wyck.

“There’s a lot of history of Emily Carr painting here but it’s not necessarily well known,” Payne said.

“The information that is written about her tends to be a little bit vague, so we really want to promote the fact that she spent a lot of time here painting and she was influenced by our communities; most especially the Ucluelet First Nation.”

She added the festival would be a solid lure for tourists.

“Visitors are going to be pretty excited about it because, let’s face it, Emily Carr is one of the most renowned female painters in Canadian history. She’s got a huge following,” Payne said adding the festival is being promoted throughout Vancouver Island and the mainland.

“She’s so iconic. It will bring people out for sure.”

Payne suggested Carr would be featured again in next year’s Cultural Heritage Festival as 2017’s theme will focus on the women of the West Coast.

“We’ll be celebrating people like Emily Carr and Cougar Annie and a whole bunch of amazing women who had a lot to do with our West Coast culture and history,” she said.

The festival’s past themes have explored Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture, fishing and surfing.

Payne added PRAS’ festivals help bring the Coast together while showcasing the area’s artistic richness.

“Tofino does already have that vibe and, I think, Ucluelet needs to promote it a bit more as well because it is definitely a West Coast vibe and there is a great artistic community that transcends borders and brings people together,” she said.

“By exchanging cross-cultural knowledge, especially in the area’s history, we can build bridges between communities, we can become more understanding of the differences of our cultures and, I think, we are able to identify common attributes.”