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Her Story: Salt Spring‘s Early Women Artists

Regan Shrumm, 11 April 2018

Shrumm on early women artists on Saltspring
Accession Number a presentation to the Historical Society at Central Hall
Date April 11, 2018
Media digital recording Audio mp3 √
ID duration

40 min




Speaker 1 0:00
So according to the Saltspring Island Archives website, this is kind of how I started my research was looking on this feminist website. From the 1960s. Artists and crafts people began arriving on Saltspring Island. This belief that artists did not appear on Saltspring until the 1960s, has been reinforced by many local historians such as Chris Tom, and B Hamilton. However, when I started my research, I thought this can't be true, there must have been artists before the 1960s. And by kind of restating this, it describes a lot of previous artists who maybe we haven't we don't know too much about. So as Jennifer Mundi, curator at the Tate Gallery states in her book Lost Art, quote, art history tends to be the history of what has survived, unquote. Long before the 1960s the indigenous nations had inhabited and created art on Salt Spring for 1000s of years, with the earliest known archaeological evidence dating from around 18,000 to 200 BCE. And there were many several different nations that lived here permanently as well as seasonally including the songhees, the Cowichan, the lacs and First Nations and many others. These nations would have been producing many ceremonial objects as well as everyday items like blankets and baskets. And here are two examples of different co Salish baskets as well as ceremonial masks from the Coast Salish. Pretty sure this is the soup nation. Other cultural communities that arrived before and during white settler emigration to Salt Springs such as the black Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese Peoples also would have had a mixture of tangible and intangible art forms. Intangible would be things like storytelling and music ceremonies, and medicinal plant knowledge. However, these intangible art forms are even harder for historians to find evidence of, especially when the black Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and indigenous communities were very suppressed on the island, especially in the 1880s. By this time, as Charles Charles cons explains, that minorities, communities became quote, increasingly dismissed by the dominant society with a sweep of a hand or wag of the tongue as hat breeds, unquote. In fact, by 1901, due to the growing anxiety of minority communities, the federal government required its citizens to answer what color they were on the Census resulting in many families actually hiding their heritage and just claimed to be white. Well, little to no evidence of early black line Japanese, Chinese and indigenous art to Salt Spring, there are still some minor groups and arts and archives that have survived. And that's for women. As historian SHEILA MCMANUS State's history, especially history from the northwest, Northwest American West, quote, has long been quoted as quintessentially an exclusively male narratives of the past that have been written to appear smooth and linear look a lot bumpier and more colorful and complex after women's historians get their hands on them, unquote. Just like other racial minorities, historical women's lives are often not recorded in archives. When traditional archives were formed, it was records of male accomplishments that were collected. However, by including individual women's stories, attention can be given to understand how women regardless of their location in historical time, has acted in their own interests that side of the domestic role by reflecting on just women's stories, not only teasing out women's histories, but also communicating efforts of communities as a whole. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, women didn't often have time for artistic pursuits. They were in charge of a lot of domestic chores, caring for their children, and assisting with farming duties. This hard work was made more time consuming due to the real life here in Salt Springs. There were many dangerous elements, including animals and there's many stories I read about women who would carefully watch wash their children from possible Cougar attacks. modern conveniences like electricity and telephones came a lot later to the silent compared to Victoria and Vancouver areas. Those who created art had the privilege of time and money, which is often due to their high society class or the fact that they do not have children in their household. Etiquette books reinforced that particular arts such as needlework, knitting or painting, were a suitable accomplishments for women because it would help them with their family life. Living in a rural area led to a lot of isolation, loneliness, hard physical labor, and abundance of medical complications for women. As for anyone in the communities, but World War One presented women on the island as well as all over Canada, with new opportunities for education and employment. Women On the homefront assumed a pirate primarily patriotic role, serving as the core of the nation's identity, who was supposed to uplift both the home front and the warfront. Just before and after World War One women's organizations established on the island, including the Women's Institute in 1902, and the imperial order order Daughters of the empire in 1914. These organizations provide a time for socializing for making art, educating and helping build a community. However, not everyone likes these women's Institute's during the first meeting of the Salt Spring Island Women's Institute, men were so suspicious of their involvement that more men than women attended. Salt Spring most likely has a longer art history dating back before the Salt Spring archives were even created. But this history is hard to research with any accuracy. So for example, though, I could find this painting, which I'll come back to later, by an artist named Maude Bridgman, I could find almost nothing of her of news articles or pictures. I'm still still though after some researching, I was able to find three females through looking at the archives, who worked before the 1960s saw three artists who I'm going to talk about here, Florence, Walter, Sophie Purser, King and Jessie barrel weather fell. We're all self taught. And they all worked with different artistic mediums. The main connecting factor between all three women is they built community here in Salt Springs through their artistic practices. However, the way that each individual women, but this community was very different from each other. So I'm going to start with the oldest woman of the three artists who is Florence. Unfortunately, there's no image of her, but this is her handwriting. So Florence was born in Bristol, England, on January 9 1859. Her biography, unfortunately is mostly a mystery. Because like many women of her era, the records mostly focused on Florence's husband and we're Walter. It is unknown when Edward Walter arrived to Salt Spring from Bristol, England, but he most likely arrived with his older brother Arthur in the late 1800s to early 1890s. According to Reverend yes Wilson's monthly newsletter, Salt Spring Island, partnership and home in June 1897, quote, Mr. Edward Walter has done a wise act and taking to himself a wife. The lady arrived from England and the marriage ceremony took place in Vancouver, unquote. Florence and Edward were quite community oriented, and both joins many organizations here in Salt Spring, mostly centered around churches. So Edward was at one time the treasurer of St. Mark's Anglican Church, the Secretary of the farmer's Institute, the Secretary of the Saltspring Island Creamery Association, the Secretary of the Saltspring Island clubs and part of the building committee here for Central Hall. Meanwhile, Florence was the organist for the St. Mark's Anglican Church, and St. Paul's Church, a founding members and president of the St. Mark's ladies Guild, and the Secretary of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire or the I O D.

Speaker 1 10:00
And the IoT II is national women's organization that was founded in 1900. But in Montrell, five, this woman here, Margaret Marie, Marie encouraged women to promote patriotism, loyalty and services to others. The Ganges chapter of the IoD II started on September 7 1914, and for years that flanks were was involved. The organization was mostly supporting the efforts of World War One. The women in the organization knitted socks and other clothing items to send to the Red Cross. The chapters of IoT II, alone knitted more than 2 million items during World War One. And actually with the local chapter here, they raised enough funds to buy a machine gun for the Berlin the Belgium army, which was quite fascinating. Because who would think all this living would then result into this giant war machine? The Ganges chapter also raise money by orchestrating social events such as fancy dress parties at Central Hall, pantomimes and concerts. So in addition, the women of the IoD II sold their arts which included handmade jewelry knitted socks and paintings at a stall in Fulford harbour during the winter holidays and summer seasons. And with all these proceeds would then go to the Red Cross. And many ways to me, this is a kind of the beginnings of the Salt Spring Island sadly, markets which didn't begin until 1973. Some of the paintings that were created by the IoD II, women were even donated to one of the local schools. I haven't been able to track down those paintings, but I think maybe somewhere they're up there and the minute bucks to the IoD II from 1914 to 1918 Farts Walter is described as both, quote, The Undertaker of the knitting committee, and quote the supporter of the painting project, unquote. Bio de wood has a lot of parts and opportunity to meet like minded women, but also exchange dressing and knitting patterns. Give household and artistic tips and I'm sure gossip over community news. As historian Catherine Seacole explains, quote, working together for various community projects helped women to improve their skills and gave them more confidence in their own abilities. Unquote. During her time at IOD II in the St. Mark's ladies guild, Florence may have taught other women how to paint and therefore spread an appreciation for the arts and Saltspring. This was especially needed in time when many women were sitting at home and they were often worrying about their enlisted sons and husbands. Having creating a creative outlet would have reduced stress and creative self expression. Therefore, as historian Deborah a deacon explains, quote, as they have been doing for centuries, women made use of these mediums to make their own political statements. As farts and milk and Edward had no children, Florence had lots of time to devote to the community compared to other women of the same era. This time, she would use it to paint often. The watercolors that remain apparent sculptors depict a different era that many contemporary Springer's maybe aren't used to seeing fluences watercolors both demonstrate a natural wildness and the beginnings of southern conservation. In the background of the painting of log cabin, which is pictured here. Florence paints a endless dense forest however, in the foreground, which you can see here are a lot of stumps, to demonstrate that the land has been beginning to be clear to make new homes. For the most part, Fox's color palette is a mixture of green and brown tones, but she occasionally has these places of yellow and red satin lies in the painting. So there are no pink people in her paintings. Florence adds small details that show that these homes and areas are not abandoned, such as the drawn curtains of the rental farmhouse which is down here. Or the pattern rubs on the ocean if you'd Lansky these paintings remind us even in early 20th century, sellers were still living quite quickly. Second artists that I researched is Sophie Keynsham here. She was born in 1880. fact you've repoint to sack Fisher, who was a woman from the couching nation, and George Purser, who was an English magistrate. Sophie grew up with a large family that struggled to make ends meet. A teacher from Brooklyn Bay was very distressed by their personal children. She said quote, they were not very well provided by with shoes and clothing for the cold weather, unquote. And George Purser so Sophie's father he is light land was too difficult to cultivate software He was said to have almost helplessness with paralysis, and he had to rely a lot on his wife. So George was so dependent that the couple married in 1879. So according to the 1881 census, 57% of children on Salt Spring were mixed race. The ceremony of marriage often did not occur between southerners and indigenous people around this time. By around 1881, Sarah Purser worked at a local Salt Spring in and would occasionally traveled to Victoria where she would complete odd jobs like washing clothes and nanny. While Sarah was at work, Sophie was with her and Sophie's daughter in law Gladys king would later explain how at the end patrons would spoil Sophie. And as that Gladys describes quote, so when she was around three her step brother George realized that she was getting far too spoiled. Something would have to be done on quote. So George Fisher was this many George's in the story of George Fisher was a son from Sarah's previous marriage. And he went to the St. Ann's boarding school and Duncan were some of Sarah's older daughters were already attending. And the Sisters of St. Anne's is a Roman Catholic institution, I actually couldn't find a picture of it. So this is a another st and residential school in Quebec. And it was the Sisters of St. Anne was founded in Quebec to promote the education of rural children. The Sisters of St. Anne and Duncan was for indigenous and mixed descent children. And while the sisters did decide indigenous children should be given that elementary school education, they thought it was more critical, critical to kind of civilize them through domestication and manual work. And so people have a mixtures of experiences here. George Fisher convinced the nuns to take Sophie, even at an early age of three, usually the children one go until about six years old. Boarding School Sophie would have learned embroidery, sewing, painting and knitting. In 1867, at the age of 17, Sophie left the Sisters of St. Anne, and then Trump seemed to kind of trial round first, Victoria, then Seattle and finally Tacoma. And there she was acting as a nanny and a chambermaid. But by 1900, Sophie moved back to Salt Spring where she met a blogger named Leon King, who is sitting down with a fiddle. Later that same year, Sophia and Leon were married by marrying a non Indigenous man. However, and and actually Leon does have some indigenous heritage but again, that was denied later. But Sophie, by marrying Leon had given up her rights as an indigenous woman. This was due to an 1867 the infringement act and then continued through a series of Indian Acts, where the federal government decreed that quote, an Indian woman who married a non Indian man lost her status as a registered Indian, as did her children in the sense that a woman's racial identity was followed that by her husband at least in a legal sense,

Speaker 1 19:26
hover, Sophie kept her indigenous identity and culture with her and even shared it with her family. Sophie spent a lot of time with her half brother's wife, Maria Mahoney, who is a woman that's Hawaiian and Canadian indigenous heritage. Maria lived on Russell Island and would have her family. Her mail delivered to Sophie's house because they didn't want delivered to Russell Island, which was just across the water. Maria apparently understood it indigenous foods and other usages and also had a lot of origin stories and she taught these skills to her family. So Sophie who may not have known much about her own traditions, because of growing up in a school, most likely might have had Maria rekindle some of these indigenous art forms for her. From 1902 to 1914, Sophie gave birth to a series of six children. But later in life when the children grew up, Leon became a boat builder, and Sophie began working alongside him. But both buildings Sophie learned how to carve and widdle and without young children to take care of Sophie began to walk along the beach and find different pieces that she found and began to carve them. So if you chose drip was with natural curves, so the artists could exaggerate the shape in many occasions, so we would also use scrap wood from the boats that they were building. Some of the pieces are minute ly altered such as the cougar, who's not in lower body has been painted to enhance the driftwood burls. And she also got this is her self portrait as well, which is a little bit more complicated. Sophie first started carving local animals that she was familiar with such as Herons, squirrels were packers, but then kind of moved to more unusual animals or mythical creatures like the OB Pogi that like Monster from the Okanagan lake or she also has some indigenous Smith's as well. So Sophie display these carvings around the front and back of her house, both Salzburg Islanders and tourists would travel to go see her work. However, Sophie did not sell any of her artwork until 1964 When she sold her home and carvings to Bob Anchorman, who then created a museum, which displayed these were. But by continuing to keep her artwork outside, Sophie must have really enjoyed this attention that the art was bringing her so Sophie often kept to her own family. The interest in her around her art was unusual for at a time, many people were interested in kind of the traditional indigenous carvings during the 1930s and 40s because of this style known as primitivism. That was very popular. Have her Sophie's carvings are not typical of other Coast Salish Carver's, such as the contemporary clock clock Carver, Ellen Neal, who played an active role in popularizing indigenous art in British Columbia. During a time when Saltspring was prejudiced against many non white peoples, the fact that so many people were interested in wanting to have a conversation with Sophie. It just shows the power of of using art to as a linkage between communities. And this third artists Jessie barrel, whether fool was born in 1899 and Ganges to Frank Scott, a farmer from Yorkshire and Catherine Wilson, who was a daughter of Reverend Edward Francis Wilson, who was the Anglican vicar here on the island. And Jessie had a very absent childhood. She went to Ganges in the Ganges private school, creating it was created to appeal to children of English Heritage. Jessie's seem to keep her heritage throughout her life in 1965, when Jessie was interviewed for the CBC series living memory, she distinctly has a British accent, even though she had never left Canada all her life. And Jessie grew up playing tennis and field hockey, and during her mother in the IoD II meetings, this would have been the exact same time that Florence Walter would have also been the secretary of IOD II. And barrel started keeping journals in 1911 at the age of 12. So here we have journal and then next to it is actually a Emily Carr, set and journal. Through her journal, Jessie recorded her daily activities as well as doodles and sketches of Saltspring Islanders and her journals throughout the year. Jesse fluctuates between drawing faces small scenes of island life and complicated scenes where the figures or talk for justice comments on what is occurring Are these later drawings are more represent more reminiscent of Emily Carr's sketches? So how's that the BC archives and like car has mixture of doodles and humorous observations and even graphic calendar like this one, where the artists crates are written and drawn summary for each month and next to no nine. For both women these sketches would have allowed them to flex their creative muscles through quick drawings as well as look at comical everyday occurrences. Just the reflects in her journal that she wrote 10 DREW every night before she went to bed, most likely in the privacy of her bedroom, which means this could have all been recorded without other Saltspring Islanders who would know. Jessie kept her drowned going until 1937. But in 1939, just as old the oldest child David started a journal at the age of 10. And David's journal combines notes and drawings by both David and his mother and David's journal, Jessie use a lot more color in her than her own milk book, making her John's look a little bit more whimsical and lively. Perhaps this chat style changes due to the fact that she wanted to inspire her young son. Jesse came from a whole line of observers on the Salt Spring Island. So Jesse's grandfather, Reverend EF Wilson, created an illustrated family journal next to eight, which is shown here. And the journal, Wilson includes drawings from when he was 11 years old, as well as watercolors throughout his life. His subjects including trips to England and his time running a residential school in Ontario. Boston's watercolors are a little bit less whimsical and a little bit more realistic than Jesse's drawings. However, this different artistic style could be explained by his personality, as Jesse called her grandfather, quote, a very strict clergyman who was sober and serious. And quote, by the early 1960s, Jesse moved from Saltspring Island to Galiano Island, but she continued to be involved with Salt Spring communities. Throughout the 1960s, and 70s, Jessie's their diary entries and drawings were recorded on in the driftwood newspaper to explain the early life of Salt Spring Island. Jesse also wrote several letters to the editor using her diary entries to explain past occurrences and weather or events. In this way, Jesse became a keeper of the Salt Spring Island knowledge that she shared through a public forum. And while I was in residency here in Salt Spring from January 8 to march 1, there was actually many individuals who come up to me and tell me a lot more fascinating tales of other female artists. So I'm going to talk a little bit about those. So I had mentioned Maude Bridgman, who's born in 1868. And her great granddaughter, Dr. briny pen came up to me and explained her, her great great grandmother's life. So mom's father was a mayor of Victoria, and later actually became Victoria represented Victoria in the Legislative Council of British Columbia. In his spare time, mom's father's painted watercolors, which inspired mob to take up painting. So this is kind of a same connection of family lineages, inspiring people. After becoming widowed at a very early age, Maude moved back and forth between Victoria and salt spoon, staying in the south side of the island,

Speaker 1 29:08
and she would stay in a little cabin, surrounded by apple trees with her three children. Mod was an early member of the island arts and crafts society, which is the oldest Canadian arts group west of Ontario. And as a member of this society mod would have traveled around Victoria and the Gulf Islands to sketch and paint landscapes with other members, which included Emily Carr, who's probably most famously known in this group, as well as Lady Sarah Creasy. Being in the society probably would have encouraged Maude and challenged her style, and she got to that many different locations. And a former starkel Society speaker, Brenda Geller informed me also Agnes Rachael, and in this book that you can take at the end to have a free copies. I talked about when Rachael and this would be great when Russell's Great aunt and Agnes. Rachael was born in 1881. And she was one of four very sick children of Henry and Ella and Rachael. The oldest child, Alfred was known for his woodworking skills, and he made handcrafted furniture and musical instruments. The second oldest LLF Saltspring, at the age of 28, to travel around England and France, before heading to Chicago to START study at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unfortunately, no artwork of Ella or awkward really has survived. There's a couple Alfred, the furniture, but not much has survived. Agnes studied at Victoria College, which was founded in 1903 by McGill University and it's now known as Craigdarroch Castle. Agnes became a teacher for the beaver point School and later she moved to cascade city, British Columbia to teach and 1901 Agnes quit teaching to back to Salt Spring and hit full time. But unfortunately, just four years later, in 1905, Agnes drowned in Grand Forks, British Columbia, after attempting to save her friend's life while swimming. As Agnes DiGRA young at the age of 24, she was not really talked about much in the record family, and thus, her story doesn't really live on very much. However, her paintings did survive and even recently, the Britain court to Museum and night team in 2017, acquired one of her paintings. So it is hard to tell how Agnes might have built community around Saltspring her artwork may have helped inspire future artists in the reco families such as one.

Speaker 1 32:14
So called artists, building communities did not end when the immigration of artists came to Salt Spring, the late 1960s. If anything, Salt Spring Island, flourished even more due to this flood of creativity, however, to me, does not just dwell on the past, and instead, invest in the future. So one way to do this is to build on the knowledge and the traditions of a cultural past and infuse this in the present day to create a community for the future. And by telling these three historical narratives, I hope that Salzburg islanders I hope you are encouraged to work from this knowledge to adapt and critique and apply it to your own practice of having a better community. As Community Consultant Peter block explains the arts are a central part of the story of what it means to be a human being. And therefore the arts are a necessary part of building communities. And I just want to end by saying that I hope after this talk that many of you have more stories to share of early Saltspring artists, because as I stayed here, I found there was more and more stories to tell. And this way, the title of the exhibition catalog that you'll see forgotten, females of Saltspring Island is quite misleading. Indeed, the artists aren't really forgotten at all, as many islanders still remember interacting with them, especially more contemporary artists, like Sophie King, even when their stories are gone from oral histories that artworks and images will live on in personal collections and archives. Thank you.

Unknown Speaker 34:02
Does anyone have any questions? Yeah.

Speaker 2 34:09
Thank you very much. Enjoyed it. At the beginning, you mentioned that the that there were the Indian indigenous people did live here. I know when I first came here to Saltspring people always said that they will need just came here to for the day or Oh, could you talk a bit?

Speaker 1 34:30
Yeah, yeah. So there were there's about like six or seven different nations that is thought to have lived here. And you know, they're each nation would have had a different way. So some may have come back and forth to maybe just catch clams or that kind of thing. But others probably would have lived here and and you know, we have the grace Island And we have evidence of a lot of archaeological evidence that they would have settled around that area. But I think there was this myth that I read that no indigenous people were here before 1800s. And that could have been because by time settlers got here, either a lot of the indigenous people could have had smallpox that time, and maybe populations were down. But also, you know, the island is so big, you would have not even seen everyone or wanted to ignore certain areas. So I think there's there's still this myth that there was an indigenous people here before, or they were kind of came a little bit close in time to when white settlers came. But they've been living here for much longer than that.

Unknown Speaker 35:56
So prior to the 18th. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 1 35:59
So that the earliest evidence is about 800 BCE. Any other questions? Yeah.

Speaker 1 36:19
Who were? Oh, so most of them were painting watercolors. And yeah, they would actually all be painting watercolors, because that that was kind of the instinct to do was to go out into nature and paint outdoors. And a lot of other mediums aren't as good as that because it dries really fast. And watercolors are a great way to to put it on the on your canvas, and work with it or credit.

Speaker 3 36:59
Yeah, dismisses but where is the artwork that shows the slides located?

Speaker 1 37:05
Yeah, so most of the artworks that I found for the library exhibition were found in private homes. So, for example, Agnes Raechel, down at truffle Park, the family still has a lot of artwork still there. And some some of the artwork that I showed, such as Florence Walters, I still don't know where those paintings were taken. Frank went around and took a lot of pictures for the archives. And that's how I came across them. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're still surviving today, or they could have gone off island. So when I first started, it was a lot of detective work to try to figure out to have paintings and where they were located. There's what? Yes, Agnes is right, Angus Raechel. And actually, Jessie's there's right near the fireplace in the museum. There's a large stitch that she did, it looks like it was for advertisement from a grocery store that she did. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 38:22
Is it okay if I stand up and say for those of you who want to see more particularly of the rustle, women and dance arts and crafts, I booked the library program room for the whole month of November. And I'm gathering a whole bunch more of these pieces of what they did. And the exciting news that I have is Ella Anna Russell Jr. I've gotten ahold of her family in the States in the last week or two. And they don't have any other artwork that they know. But they have her journal when she went to Europe in the 1910s. So that's fine. And they will be looking for more artwork. So if you want to see more November will be the money in the library. And in the display case. Sophie King is 120 pieces of carving that the acre my family and they're looking for a home for so to the work I'm doing about the park. I'm hoping that those pieces could be kept at one of the unoccupied houses at Rockwood Park. So there's there's much more coming and this craft works as well. For example, Henry Ford and Rachael learned to knit and he made his own bets. And Helen still wears her dad's that nine year old talent makes me cry. I'm hoping to have his best in the display. So it's good stuff is coming and very much helps to kick this off so many things.

Speaker 1 39:56
I do have I have about 15 copies of the