The EMILY CARR HOUSE
In the 7th grade, I visited the Emily Carr House, which is a historical house museum in Victoria, British Columbia. The house-museum allows for a rare opportunity for everything—not just items—to become artifacts. Suddenly, the lavender and rose bushes around the house’s perimeter become artifacts despite their living in the now. The gravel driveway leading up to the home became the subject of many unsaid questions—is this the real gravel that the real artist walked on in her real life? It’s as if I became one of the artist’s friends, coming over for afternoon tea, and perhaps—with any luck—a glance at one of her works-in-progress.
My memories of the house are both profound and muted—like a film photo. It is impossible for me to remember the experience as academic or objective—words that are easily associated with other museum visits—and yet everything I looked at in and around Carr’s house seemed incredibly important. The living room wallpaper in all its dated, floral glory became a thing of magnificence—the narrow staircase a portal to Carr’s private dwellings. Every object within the house was assumed to be of immense preciousness and value. Items of function become magical in the historical kitchen.
Walking around Carr’s home and garden made her famous paintings simultaneously untouchable and personal. It made her both human and god. I remember feeling like an insider—and suddenly, Carr’s famous paintings of surrealist spiritual scenes and landscapes seemed like a mystery. How could an artist living in such a classical home produce such innovative, modern artworks?
The Emily Carr House is the birthplace of Emily Carr, and officially a Heritage site. Already, before stepping inside, there is a feeling of awe, or rather, disbelief. Disbelief that a group of regular people are allowed to wander freely and take control over their experience in someone else’s sacred place.
Most of what I recall from that day is attached to a greater feeling of nostalgia—for a time that I never experienced, for people I didn’t know.
Unlike a typical museum experience, above all, there was no singular item that remained in my memory. Instead, it was the soft yellow exterior of the house, and the slight incline of the circular driveway. In many ways, a more subtle version of survey museums’ grand, pillared entrance.
The Victorian house in all its restored glory became both the museum and the studied object. In some ways, it felt fake—like a scaled model of something that should be remembered
The house-museum is able to access a different part of the human mind than the survey museum. The house-museum triggers raw emotion, and immediacy—it allows the historical to be not just remembered, but experienced. In many ways, the house-museum is more effective at enhancing the visitors’ understanding of the era or location or person. It disallows the dissection of culture into disjointed specimens , and instead emphasizes the interconnectivity and relationships that objects have amongst themselves.