Victoria’s own Emily Carr garnered international fame for her paintings and poetry, but also grew infamous for her unconventional sidekicks.
Carr is often portrayed as an eccentric artist known for her love of animals, with stories of her walking around downtown Victoria with a pram full of dogs, cats, birds and of course, the Javanese macaque, Woo.
While Carr loved all her animals, Woo held a special place in her heart. This caused Victoria author Grant Hayter-Menzies to dig a little deeper into the monkey’s story in an upcoming biography: Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr.
“There’s a lot that happened to Emily starting in 1923, when she brought Woo into her home, and into the 1930s when the trajectory of her life as an artist began going up and up, and I feel like Woo played a role in this,” Hayter-Menzies said. “There was this kind of ‘Woo effect.’”
Carr grew up in a moderately wealthy Victorian family, but stuck out in contrast with her sisters who Hayter-Menzies said were “into missionary work and very tight corsets.” Carr instead was an artist who would camp on her own – or with her animals – in the woods to paint.
“Emily herself as a little girl was like the monkey of the Carr family… she loved wildness in every facet,” Hayter-Menzies said. “In a way, Woo was her doppelganger, she was the little Emily figure that could do anything she damn-well pleased.”
Hayter-Menzies spent years researching Carr and Woo, digging through old archives and books and interviewing experts like Emily Carr House curator Jan Ross.
“It’s obvious in the ways that Emily wrote about Woo that she freed her,” Hayter-Menzies said.
“In the final portrait of Woo that Emily painted, which she was still working on when she died in March 1945… it’s Woo sitting on a branch without her dress, looking like a wild monkey. It was almost like Emily was finally able to let her go and accept the wildness that was in herself. “
Before its official release, Hayter-Menzies book has been selected by CBC Books for its spring 2019 non-fiction list. The book is set to launch on March 2, the anniversary of Carr’s death in 1945.
There will be an official launch party at Massey Books in Vancouver on March 7, not far from the site of the former Stanley Park Zoo where Woo was later shipped to and died shortly after Carr’s death.
On March 12 there will be a launch party at Bolen Books.
For more information you can visit grantmenzies.wixsite.com
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