Edith Heath and Emily Carr: From the Earth

July 10, 2021 - March 13, 2022

Edith Heath arranging dinnerware on the factory floor, c. 1955
Heath Collection, Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley

Edith Heath and Emily Carr: From the Earth brings together the work of two artists whose art was profoundly influenced by the land and landscape—its colours, light and materials. Emily Carr (1871–1945) and Edith Heath (1911–2005) never met, but both were modernist women living on the West Coast who built careers in the creative arts that spoke to their time and place. This project builds on an ongoing program of exhibitions that offer an opportunity to consider the art of Emily Carr in a different light. Some of the exhibitions have focused on directly shared histories or on stylistic affinities, while others have pointed to the significance of Carr’s influence on modern and contemporary artists.

Edith Heath was born in Ida Grove, Iowa, in 1911 to a settler family from Denmark. She was trained as a teacher and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the mid-1930s. She moved with her husband, Brian, to San Francisco in 1942 and studied ceramics at the California School of Fine Arts for two years; Emily Carr attended this same school from 1890 to 1893. While studying, Heath also taught art at a progressive cooperative school. During this period, the Heaths spent weekends exploring clay pits in California, and Edith Heath conducted independent research on clays, glazes and their chemistry. This commitment to place and process shaped her practice for the remainder of her life. The works selected for this exhibition date from Heath’s early professional career, from the mid-1940s, through to the maturation of her practice, in the mid-1960s. It was during this time that she began her annual summer journeys to Vancouver, first to teach ceramic design and chemistry at the University of British Columbia (1951 and 1952) and then as a summer pilgrimage that also included a stop at the legendary International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado, which brought together progressive thinkers and makers in the fields of design and commerce.

Emily Carr was born in Victoria, BC, in 1871 to a settler family from England. The works selected for this exhibition date from the 1930s. They emerged after a long hiatus from painting when Carr, inspired by a reinvigorated engagement with the forest, initiated a fruitful period of intense experimentation with new materials and techniques.

Carr’s 1911 French-inspired shift to using oil paints, bold colours, short, flat brushstrokes and expressive compositions gave her art a new energy and purpose. This bold experimentation set the stage for a further material transformation in the 1930s, when Carr returned to painting and developed what would become her mature expression of the forest landscape. This was achieved through the use of materials that shared a fluidity, translucency and sense of movement that closely matched her experience of the forest. She was, by this time, no longer interested in a simple documentary image of the forest but rather sought to produce a work that took on the character and form of the forest itself. Her new materials—manila paper, white house paint, oil paints, charcoal and gasoline—allowed for the production of evocative images captured quickly while in the forest, at a scale and with a sense of spontaneity that mirrored that of forest life itself. Edith Heath and Emily Carr: From the Earth includes outstanding examples of Carr’s forest pictures produced in oil and gasoline on paper and in charcoal and oil on paper; an additional selection is focused on her oil on canvas paintings that mark the impact of human presence in the forest.


Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Guest Curators Jennifer M. Volland and Jay Stewart, and Bruce Grenville, Senior Curator


Generously supported by:

The McLean Foundation