2019 Journal

The House of All Sorts, Simcoe Street, Victoria, BC

Convergences of Murmuration
January 6

A curious man came to see my paintings. Over cups of tea in my studio (an activity which is almost a must in any art story), he took “Big Red” and “Are-Beauties” to a treasured home.

Understanding the house. Sketch by PJO
Big Red. Beacon Hill Park. P Jean Oliver. Acrylic on Canvas, 11″x14″. Privately Owned.

 

As it turns out, he and his intrepid family are in the realm of heritage preservationist heroes for me. They are the dedicated owners of Emily Carr’s Hill House, famously known as The House of All Sorts.

I’ve been trying very hard not to freak out because Emily wouldn’t have liked it. She referred to people who gush as muttonheads.

Once a few years ago, the house was open for public viewing in a citywide heritage building tour. I think I was second in line to get in. After seeing her studio inside, and taking in every nook and corner, I ditched the tour to spend the day in her backyard, Emily’s energy was so strong for me there it soothed me.

Are-Beauties, Arbutus Trees. Acrylic on Canvas, 9″ x 12″, P Jean Oliver. Privately Owned 😉

When I first went in, and climbed the long, narrow staircase to the top floor where Em’s studio is, I was overcome and crying by the time I crested the landing. What I hadn’t realized was the house is configured in a similar way inside as my childhood home in Quebec.

It seems a long journey, and no time at all, from that eight year old girl me, who stood transfixed in front of Emily’s “Grey” at the Montreal World Expo in 1967 (the painting actually scared me a little, and is still does), who longed to chip off and take home a bit of BC’s wild trees on display–to this sixty year old woman me, who waved off two of her darlings to go “live with Emily”.

Me at the house tour, 2016
That infamous “back stair” at the HOAS

Like many of us, Em’s path and mine are so mixed now, I should stop being surprised by the convergences. But to now have a thread in this woman’s tapestry, as an artist and a Canadian…it’s a profound honour that fills me with joy and pride.

The back stair, I can almost see her descending to feed the dogs and the furnace, or fleeing up it to hide in the attic.

What would it be like, in one of Emily’s apartments? To have free access to the strong, murmurating energy the house vibrates with. A place with wholesome, good lighting for painting, where cats and a bit of garden are welcomed, where I could happily walk in nearby Beacon Hill park everyday, or along the beach, just as Emily did. For now, my paintings will live there in my place.

Emily has a knack for enduring, of bringing us all along with her in an unbreakable bond, like the material in one of her hooked rugs, her unseen hands weaving us in.

Emily Carr in her Simcoe Studio