Happy 100th International Women’s Day

Today is the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day. Why, you might ask, is this important to recognize? Most of you know me as an artist, photographer and writer. A few of you know that of the last 100 years I have spent more than 30 of those years actively and purposefully working towards women’s equality. I cut my feminist teeth on Dorothy Smith’s The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology in university in the late 1980’s while raising two young children as a single parent. International Women’s Day is one of my most important holidays of the year. It is a time to recognize, reflect, rejoice and recommit to making the world a better place for women and children.

One hundred years ago today women in Canada did not have the right to vote. It would be another seven years before most women over the age of 21 get the right to vote in federal elections. It wasn’t until 1960 that First Nations people received the right to vote in federal elections. Even noting these complexities, it is true, we have made gains. Yet, our fight for equality is not over and in some areas it is backsliding:

At the end of 2010, full-time working women earned only 71.3 per cent of men’s average full-time income. In the late 1980s, women earned 77 cents for every $1 a man earned.

More shocking,[ Queen’s University professor Kathleen Lahey] says, are Statistics Canada data from December 2010 show that women with university degrees now only earn 68.4 per cent of men’s average university-degree incomes, as compared with 86.8 per cent in the late 1980s.

Read more: Why Feminism Still Matters by Daphne Bramham (Vancouver Sun)

As a 52 year old feminist, activist and woman, how has the last half of the last 100 years influenced my life? Steeped in women and gender studies, waged in income for women’s equality such as women’s shelters, women centres, women’s counselling programs and women’s leadership, the answers should come easily. You might even expect that they would flow out in graceful paragraphs – eloquent after years of study and practical experience. They do not.

The blog post article I published in May 2009 “Untapped ROI – Increase Women in Leadership 13 Myths and Facts plus A-G strategies is still as relevant in March 2011. Change is a slow process. But it is more than that. The clarity and contradictions about women’s equality are worn in layers of personal scars and successes only to then unravel again in my today – as an artist, as a feminist, as a wife, and as a woman who, for the first time five years ago, understands that sometimes financial independence is a barrier to love and mutual quality of life. I now experience the equality of a great love that, for the most part, renders gender differences invisible as two people equally work in harmony for what is best for each other and for self. Outside gender imbalances are successfully rebalanced in our day-to-day living. I have experienced nothing as powerful or leveling as deeply held human regard for another.

Today as I write this, my sweetheart is calling me to come eat the breakfast he has loving prepared. Today as I write this, I smile to myself at the involvement of my son and son-in-law with the daily tasks of parenting their children. At the same time, I remember a blog diary written last week by a woman volunteering in a health clinic where a young woman giving childbirth died on her clinic floor. She needed a cesarean delivery. The child was being born feet first. There were no such medical services available. Human life is not equally valued the world over. There is still much to do.

Today as I write this, I revisit my own struggles resulting from a history of childhood trust broken with inappropriate touching of my innocent child’s body and violence handed out by men who should have been the ones I could count to stand beside me. The details are not important. Many of us – many women and a few men – have our own experiences of being treated with less than regard and loving respect by those closest to us. We can instantly provide our own details, often with undesired vivid clarity.

Yet, as my being, my body and my spirit remind me of these passages in living, I wish better for others. I have worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to create the change I want to see in the world. Now I paint. Now I slip down by the sea and I photograph. I seek healing serenity in the bodily memories of these contradictions that we live as we celebrate the 100th International Women’s Day. My eye finds a particularly powerful reminder that we are one.

My brush strokes link us to our human vulnerability.

My work towards women’s equality is not done – it has only changed. For now.

My sister, may you have the opportunity today to give yourself a hug for being the incredible woman you are.  My bother, may you know that you are an equally part of what will make a difference in the lives of the women you love.

Happy 100th International Women’s Day!

Sprout question: What woman has been your greatest creative influence?

To learn more about my work towards women’s equality visit Terrill Welch – A Woman Behind Women.

© 2011 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Purchase photography at http://www.redbubble.com/people/terrillwelch

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

Emily Carr my kindred spirit

It is morning on Wednesday October 13, 2010. We pack quickly to leave our Mayne Island home and stay overnight in Victoria. We are going to see a screening of a new documentary film Winds of Heaven: Emily Carr, Carvers and the Spirits of the Forest by Michael Ostroff. The write up about the film was one of the few items noteworthy in our withering Saturday addition of the Globe and Mail national paper –which recently went glossy and appears to have dumped the last of its journalistic content. Finding reference to my kindred spirit, Emily Carr, has however, saved one of its pages from the recycling box.

Emily Carr, a larger-than-life icon of Canadian west coast art was born in 1871 and died at age 74 in 1945. How dare I be brass enough to call her my kindred spirit? It is because of her ordinariness along with her greatness. She often speaks in humble frustration in her reflections about her paintings and writing.  There are only a few exceptions in diary entries when she allows herself a quiet moment of pride for her accomplishments. One glance at her paintings tells another story. She held nothing back in her paintings.

Carr’s powerful strokes and clarity of vision bring large cedars and western landscapes to their knees at the feet of her brush, only to release them again to push skyward across the breadth of her canvas. It is within my experience of this contradiction, and her visceral struggle with her art, that I call her my kindred spirit.

“If the work of an isolated little old woman on the edge of nowhere, is too modern for the Canadian National Gallery, it seems it cannot be a very progressive institution.” Emily Carr, On the Edge of Nowhere Gallery quote

When doubts and fears about my ability as an artist threaten to keep my brushes from the paint or my fingers from pressing the camera shutter down, I read the diary pages of Carr. I know if my tears leave stains on the pages she will understand and that we will both be out of bed again in the morning, giving it another go – together.

I now have a new reference point to breathe vitality into Carr’s life and work. It is Michael Ostroff’s documentary film Winds of Heaven. Michael spoke about the difficulty of finding a fresh approach within the many fingerprints that traipse across all primary source documents of Carr’s writing and the many eyes that have critically gazed at her sketches and paintings. Well, in my opinion, he has brought the spirit of Emily Carr alive with the same strong powerful impressions, skillfully tethered together, as Carr did in her paintings. The documentary is being screened across the country and will be released in March. I plan to add one of the DVD’s to my library shortly thereafter. I want it close by so it is within reach when doubts raise their sneering heads in the corners of my studio. Then I will then count my blessings.

“I think I have gone further this year, have lifted a little. I see things a little more as a whole, a little more complete. I am always watching for fear of getting feeble and passé in my work. I want to pour till the pail is empty, the last bit going out in a gush, not drops.” Emily Carr, On the Edge of Nowhere Gallery quote.

Carr had no digital camera and sketched quickly with oil on paper before working up her paintings back at the studio. I can both sketch and take a photograph for reference. Carr had no community of contemporary artists to muse with her through her blog, twitter and facebook. She had to write letters and send them by post to her friend Lawren Harris. He had to reply in the same manner. Something I would find too tedious for daily inspiration. In poetry she had Walt Whitman where I have both Whitman on Mary Oliver. She was isolated in her work as much as she was in her geography.

When, even now women represented in museums around the world is only about 5%, she would not likely have called herself a feminist or a ground breaker for women’s art. She would likely have said that she was an artist who just happened to be a woman. Indeed, if a showing a few years ago at the Vancouver Art Gallery of women artists who were her peers are any indication, she would be right. Her work left those of other women artists in a shadow of insignificance. To be fair, gender may not be the deciding factor of what art work is left in her shadow.

Next, I will give thanks for each diary entry, and each story in the 893 pages of her writings. Finally, I will bow my head in gratitude for the dedicated work of Ira Dilworth, Doris Shadbolt, and now Michael Ostroff for ensuring that I have these unique views and access to the life and work of Emily Carr.

After the screening, Michael Ostroff commented during the discussion, that he wanted to “put Carr in the context of her time.” He has done more than that. He has put British Columbia in the context of its time. He shared her struggle to create a vision as it took him five years to find the funding and complete this incredible film which includes our experience with rugged wilderness and history of unsettled land claims.

Through my life as an artist going right back to childhood, Carr has always been just out of sight, leaving me marks to follow as I forge my own artistic path. I feel Carr’s kindred spirit as I work – not in her brush stroke but in the strength and reverence for her west. I am not a scribe for what is before my eyes but rather that which is before my heart. My Emily understands this. I can tell you facts about her life – such as her breakdown while going to art school in Europe or the 15 fallow years when she lost her will and only painted seven works and stopped writing in her diary. I can tell you that her best work came after this time while she was in 50’s. I can tell you that she was loved but never married. I can tell you these things but it will be far more meaningful if you read her writings for yourself and if you browse the pages of Doris Shadbolt’s The Art of Emily Carr or if you go to The Greater Victoria Art Gallery and stand in front of her paintings and see the trees swaying as they reach skyward or if you watch Winds of Heaven by Michael Gostroff – a documentary that adds value and depth to all other experiences of a Canadian artist, a great artist, a woman artist, Emily Carr. May you also know the life and art of the Emily who sits beside me as I work.

References are linked within the post.

Sprout question: What great artist encourages you while you work?

And you might like this later post as well “Emily Carr Mystery-solved” https://creativepotager.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/emily-carr-mystery-solved

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Purchase photography at http://www.redbubble.com/people/terrillwelch

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada