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he Welcome Man

Emily Carr
The Welcome Man, 1913
Oil on cardboard, mounted on masonite
95.3 × 64.8 cm
Gift of Bryan Adams, December 2000

A museum collection is never a fixed entity. It demands repeated analysis and reevaluation to weigh its strengths and define its weaknesses. Research might reveal aspects of an artist's career that should be included or identify specific works that would strengthen the artist's presence in the public galleries. Such is the case with Emily Carr's Welcome Man.

Carr lived on the west coast at a time when the National Gallery had a small staff and contact with western Canadian artists was infrequent. She did not become known to the Gallery's director, Eric Brown, until 1926, when she was in her fifties. Her paintings were included in the Gallery's exhibition Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern, and her connection with the institution was strengthened when she came east for the opening in December 1927. Three watercolours painted in 1912 were acquired shortly after. Three additional oils, purchased in 1936, while Carr was recovering from her first stroke, were the last acquisitions before her death in 1945. Today the Gallery owns forty-three drawings, watercolours, and oils, one hooked rug, and three examples of Carr's pottery, all acquired through careful selection, opportunity, and the generosity of many donors. Yet among these there are only eight paintings from 1912-1913, Carr's major period, when she painted the sculptures and villages of the First Nations of British Columbia. The Welcome Man, generously donated by Bryan Adams, has strengthened our representation of this period immeasurably.

During the summer of 1912 Carr travelled north from Vancouver to Alert Bay, visited the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) villages of Tsadzis'nukwame', 'Mi'mkwamlis, Kalugwis and Gwa'yasdam's, and then travelled up the Skeena River and over to Haida Gwai (the Queen Charlotte Islands). In all, her trip took six weeks, and by September she was back in her Vancouver studio. Most of Carr's studies painted on this trip were in watercolour, which she translated into oil in the high-keyed palette she had learned in France. In April 1913 she organized an exhibition of two hundred of her paintings at Dominion Hall in Vancouver. Sales were few, and for financial reasons Carr stopped painting until the early 1920s.

Although Carr inscribed the name of the village of Karlukwees (Kalugwis) on this painting, Peter Macnair, a former curator at the Royal British Columbia Museum, has identified the subject as a potlatch figure at the nearby village of 'Mimkwamlis. Its arm outstretched in the gesture of an orator, the sculpture is placed in the foreground and fills the frame. Its dark form is silhouetted against the blue and purple mountains and small islets in the distance, and the sky and water are bathed in yellow light from the setting sun. The dramatic effect and boldness of this painting are enhanced by the simplicity and relatively unmodulated treatment of the silhouetted figure. Dated 1913, and possibly painted just before her April exhibition, this painting marks the culmination of the first period of Carr's career.