We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.*

by chuckofish

Some months ago, out of the blue, I received an email from an English writer researching a book about Harry Phelan Gibb, an artist who worked in Paris during the early decades of the 20th century. In the course of his research my emailer had discovered that our grandparents, Arthur and Mira Chamberlin, had sublet Gibb’s apartment for a few months in 1921. This fact did not come as a great surprise, since we already knew that our grandparents were abroad at that time. Apparently, Gibb’s apartment proved uninhabitable due to an infestation of bedbugs, so Arthur packed up his pregnant wife and moved her to healthier digs in London, where our father was born a few months later. According to an announcement in the Burlington Free Press, Arthur was working as a correspondent for the “London Morning Express” at the time.

Out of curiosity, I looked up Harry Phelan Gibb (1870-1948) and discovered a perfectly competent English artist, who started out painting pleasing landscapes,

but then fell under the spell of Cézanne and began producing less conventional, post-impressionist paintings.

Unable to find a unique style of his own, Gibb never quite made it in the art world, although Gertrude Stein remained a staunch supporter and friend throughout his adult life. Like many struggling artists, he avoided financial ruin by taking on students. Not long after I received the above-mentioned email, I told my son James about Gibb and his studio, and since he (James) was bored out of his mind working from home due to Covid, he decided to look into the group.

One of Gibb’s students, a Canadian artist named Emily Carr, struck James as particularly interesting. Born and raised in British Columbia, Carr is known for her paintings of indigenous subjects and for the fact that she managed to go to Europe to study art at a time when few young women enjoyed such freedom. She spent 1910 studying in France, and at least some of that time with Phelan Gibb. Here is a photo of her from that period.

You can see a couple of the works she painted in France here. Carr studied with Gibbs only briefly and it seems that she developed her own independent style rather more successfully than he did. I like this painting called Indian Church, don’t you?

All of this brings me to my main point. Imagine my pleasure when I discovered this marvelous article about Emily Carr while exploring a favorite blog, At Sunnyside, whose author is a frequent visitor to this site!

Let us review the chain of relationships. A stranger’s email revealed a connection between our grandparents and an English artist, Phelan Gibb, who lived in Paris. Research into Gibb inspired my son to look into one of Gibb’s students, Emily Carr, and then we discovered Sunnyside’s post about the very same Emily Carr. As anyone can see, it IS a small world and we are all connected in unexpected and wonderful ways – sometimes by a shared past and sometimes by our present interests. We converge through art and literature, people and events. Laugh and call it coincidence if you must; I call it the steady hand of Providence.

*William James