Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Artist and Mystery

Banff at November, watercolour by Edith F. Kirk, 1947


For 35 years, Lethbridge was the home of an accomplished and well known artist and art teacher. Edith Fanny Kirk, or Miss Kirk as most people called her, created water colour landscapes of England, Vancouver, Lethbridge, Waterton, Banff, and Jasper. She taught many children and adults the skills of painting. She also spoke at the Mathesis Club presenting papers on the development of Modern Art, the evolution of art and art appreciation. Joan Stebbins, past Curator at the SAAG, credits the influence of Miss Kirk for the development of the Lethbridge Sketch (now Artists’) Club in the 1930s.

When Miss Kirk arrived in Lethbridge in 1918, she was 60 years old. She was born in 1858 and was raised in Yorkshire, England. Her mother, Fanny (nee Maugham) passed away when Edith was a young girl and her father remarried. The story, from second hand sources, was that she and her step mother did not like one another. This proved to be a blessing in disguise because Edith was sent away to study art. Edith studied in South Kensington, London and Paris. During her summers she joined artist’s colonies in Cornwall, Wales and Yorkshire. She wrote of Impressionist Paul Cezanne being her “model and inspiration” and she greatly admired Romantic artist John Sell Cotman.

Kirk never married and, for some reason, she decided to immigrate to Canada at the age of 46. She arrived in Halifax aboard the HMS Canada in April 1905. The passenger list indicated she was travelling on to Vancouver and her occupation was listed as a Governess. It seems she didn’t stay long in Vancouver but soon travelled to Atlin, BC. To get to Atlin, Kirk would have taken a ship to Skagway, the White Pass Railway to Carcross and then an overland and boat trip to Atlin. It is a mystery why she chose to go to a remote gold rush town in north western British Columbia.

Next we find Kirk, in 1911, boarding with the Woods family in Lillooet, northwest of Kamloops, BC. There she is a public school teacher. Seven years later Edith Kirk is in Lethbridge. It seems she knew people living in Taber, Dr. Alfred Hamman and his sister Mrs. Sylvia Gidman, who came from her homeland in England so chose visit. The charm of the prairie and mountain landscapes of southern Alberta enticed her to stay. Miss Kirk lived in the Victoria Mansion and the Traveller’s Aid Society building and she taught art classes at the YMCA for a few dollars a month.

Miss Edith Kirk is a mysterious lady who came from an influential family in Yorkshire, travelled to remote towns in western Canada and then settled in Lethbridge. We don’t know why she left England, nor how she would find herself in the far northern reaches of British Columbia. Trying to fill in the many gaps of her life is an interesting challenge. In my search for more about Miss Kirk I have communicated with John S. Kirk, the Kirk family genealogist, searched many Archives, Museums and Galleries, Library & Archives Canada, U of L Art Gallery and SAAG files, and this July I will drive to Lillooett, BC to search through the records of the Lillooett News in hopes of finding more about this fascinating lady.

If you can help me solve any of the many mysteries surrounding Edith Fanny Kirk or know where any of her art works reside I would appreciate hearing from you.

2 comments:

  1. Fred Roycroft7 Nov 2013 23:54:00

    Miss Kirk, as my father referred to her, was his art teacher. I don't know how long or when. 1920's I'd guess. I have a watercolour by her of the Columbia river near Golden, B.C.

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    Replies
    1. Fred, I would be most interested in communicating with you directly. You can reach me at wendy.aitkens@galtmuseum.com or 403-320--3907. I would like to know your father's name and more about him as well as any information/letters/photos he may have about Miss Kirk. I am also interested in the art your father did as a result of Miss Kirk's teaching. We are developing an exhibit about her for 2015 so would be interested in learning more about the Kirk watercolour and any of your father's art you have.

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