Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Comparing Adventures

Over the past five years I have been following and finding information about Miss Edith Fanny Kirk, the art teacher and artist who explored the prairies, foothills and mountains in southern Alberta and B.C. from 1905 until she passed away in December 1953. Her journey through life involved many adventures as she was an intrepid traveller. I discovered that Miss Kirk and I shared many interests in life and this was part of my need to learn more about her.

She saved several items left to her by her mother which included things like an amethyst necklace, a calling card case and a beautifully engraved spoon from the Victorian ere. I have also cherished things given to me by my mother which includes an aquamarine necklace and many souvenirs spoons she collected.  Miss Kirk was an artist from an early age and received training from some very prestigious schools of art in the UK and France.  My training came through community classes, a college diploma in Interior Design and a Fine Arts Degree from University.

We both found painting outdoors with watercolours to be our best form of visual expression. She travelled across the UK and France attending artist colonies, for 11 summers. This meant she was staying in small hotels or hostels and tramping through the nearby country in search of places that intrigued her artistic senses. In 1905, Miss Kirk emigrated to Canada and continued her travels into isolated and sometimes very rustic places in British Columbia.  I have discovered many of her paintings that demonstrate very clearly her intimate connection to the landscapes she visited.  My travels have taken me to the American desert region, Nepal, Ghana, England and many places across Canada.  My sketch book and paints travelled with me and many paintings hang in my home or in the home of friends based on the spectacular places I visited.

Something that came as quite a surprise to me was the fact that we shared similar experiences hiking in the backcountry of the western National Parks.  For more than 20 years, I hiked and camped with the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies, an organization that provides week long trips into scenic areas of the mountains.  In 1919, at the age of 60 years, Miss Kirk joined the Alpine Club of Canada and this took her into Banff, Yoho, Glacier and Jasper Parks.  She didn't climb with the club but was a welcome member in camp and along the trail where she spent her time painting.

Her modes of travel included horse and buggies, steam trains and ships, sternwheeler lake boats, stage coaches, early cars, and city tram cars.  My travel has involved horse and buggy, diesel trains, smaller motorized boats and canoes, rugged four wheel drive trucks, small fixed wing planes, ultralights, hot air balloons, large commercial jets, private cars and motor homes.

Miss Kirk and I have seen many of the same places, approximately 100 years apart.  During my research, I visited places like Atlin, BC and York, England.  I found the spots she sat to paint in those places.  On my last day in Atlin, I hoped to paint the same lake and mountain scene Miss Kirk had but the rain and hordes of mosquitoes discouraged me.  I wondered if she would have persevered or waited for another day.

In York, I realized how much Miss Kirk was willing to adjust objects she was seeing to create a more dramatic composition on the paper in front of her.  She moved buildings and chose not to include things like multiple chimneys of the roofs of buildings, she used an impressionistic style when painting trees, dirt roads, and clouds to produce a pleasing piece of watercolour art.  I also use artistic license when I paint by simplifying the scene I wish to capture, playing with colour, and sometimes adding things to my painting that might be from a totally different location.

My journey of discovery with regard to Miss Kirk has been a wonderful adventure which has encouraged me to appreciate her courage and allowed me to understand her very adventuresome soul.

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