Elmay Crow

Elmay Crow

...was born in Winnipeg, Canada on August 21th, 1929. Her mother (a gold-medal winner in the Glasgow School of Art) was one of the first to introduce the Montessori system of learning into the Scottish school system, and provided Elmay with thorough home schooling.

Elmay`s art training, beginning at four years of age, was strictly in draughtsmanship. For the first several years she was only allowed to use pencil, no eraser or paints. When she was six years old her first artwork sale took place on a beach. The tourist beamed over the perfect angles of a boat she was drawing and purchased it on the spot.

The Honorable Mark Kearley who was president of the Little Gallery (Victoria B.C.'s first art gallery) and a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, had written a book about Emily Carr who was also one of the founding members. He autographed Elmay's copy of the book: "To Elmay Flett, in the hope and expectation that she is the second Emily Carr of Canada." Elmay, only eight at the time, was winning, and continued to win, countless awards for her artwork throughout her childhood, and wrote her first children's story at age fifteen.

Elmay's first introduction to a public school, two weeks following her seventeenth birthday, was at the University of British Columbia. The Professor, the Dean, and Dr. Shrum, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, met with Elmay's parents and explained to them that they had gone as far as they could with Elmay's Art training. They suggested McGill University of Montreal, or the California School of Fine Arts (Stanford University's Art School). Uncomfortable with the idea of Elmay leaving on her own her parents sold their home in East Sooke, B.C. and the entire family moved to San Francisco where Elmay was enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts. There Elmay, staying true to her own style, avoided falling into the abstract forms that were so popular at the time.

Elmay also attended additional fashion drawing work shops offered by The Art League School of San Francisco, where development in speed, flow, and coordination were encouraged with "one second poses" from the subjects. Later, Douglas McCagey, Director of the California School of Fine Arts, offered Elmay a four-year working scholarship as an instructor's assistant but Elmay and her family decided to return home to Victoria, BC, Canada.

Child welfare advocate Gertrude Elizabeth McGill, wife of noted pharmacist William McGill and the first female chairperson of the Greater Victoria School Board, hired Elmay to teach kindergarten at the locally renowned Children's Garden Library, the first co-operative preschool in Victoria. Elmay simultaneously attended visual education classes with the Victoria School Board although she decided not to pursue her teaching certificate. In May of 1954 Elmay married Del Crow and began teaching all grades of art at the request of Westerham and Malvern House private schools.

Elmay raised four children and continued to paint and teach while writing and illustrating the "Speck the Brownie" inspired stories which came from her original early-childhood fantasies. Each page required six separate multilith plates, one for each color, hand etched directly onto the plate. Her husband Del, while studying at the University of Victoria, purchased and learned how to operate an old multilith press and set up a family workshop called Crow Publishing. With all four children collating, they produced 1700 manuscript copies of the first of the series. It was chosen as supplemental reading by the Department of Education which brought requests from school libraries across Canada. A further 2000 copies were made and sent out to them. The family produced 5000 copies of the next book of five stories and sold out promptly, as did 1000 copies of a little black and white sampling of the third book.

While still nursing her fourth child, Sandra, Elmay single-handedly painted the entire stage setting for the Victoria Operatic Society's production of "The Merry Widow". In that same year she did a summer showcase production "Toad of Toad Hall" which received a standing ovation upon the curtain opening, for her scenery!

At the time, established publishers found that it wasn't cost effective to produce six-color art books so with the proliferation of Elmay's work; stories, book marks, calendars, hasti-notes etc. being considered Elmay, Del, and the children continued on their own producing what they could through their home publishing efforts.

When another book series, "Ronny Meets the Cadborosaurus" and "Ronny Meets the Sasquatch", also in rhyming prose, was produced by the family, the latter book was immediately placed on the Recommended Reading List for Canadian Schools and used as a teaching tool at the University of British Columbia. Children of all ages still speak of enjoying Elmay's stories and having her books in their collections.

Elmay painted hundreds of portraits, and even full wall murals for Victoria's Tudor House, Les Blow's Motorcycle Shop, Toni Britton's Beauty Parlor, Delphina's Cafe, the Sun-Lock Restaurant, the Robin Hood Motel, and several private Victoria B.C. homes. Later, after a move to central B.C. Elmay designed the New Canadians' English program for the Quesnel High Schools and taught at the College of New Caledonia, Prince George and at the local Sikh Temple. During her time there she did numerous murals for the popular Cariboo/Chilcotin event "Billy Barker Days" for many years. Additionally, her artwork graced Berge's Styling, the Calton home, the Ulysses Restaurant, and many other private establishments. Many of Elmay's impressive paintings found their way into the Haidaguai Art Gallery in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Highly valued, they were deemed "not for sale".

Elmay and Del returned to Vancouver Island where they raised Arabian horses while Elmay continued to paint and write, completing another book series of "Speck the Brownie" and a new novel, an extension of the "Ronny" series along with many short stories and poems.

From her inner beauty and strength, purity of life, and endless energy, Elmay consistently displayed the natural talent and inspiring style to earn her the title of "the second Emily Carr of Canada".