Helen Griffin's Savary Island

(Source: Helen Griffin's Savary Island)

(Source: Helen Griffin's Savary Island)


Published in 2010 by the Savary Island Heritage Society and Tony Griffin, this beautiful and touching book by Helen Griffin, a long-time Savary resident and artist, is "A selection of sketches, paintings and notes from her time on the island, 1947 — 1983."

You can purchase a copy by contacting either the Savary Island Heritage Society or Tony Griffin at edwardsgriffin at telus.net.


A brief biography by Tony Griffin


"Her father was a naturalist and the house in North Vancouver was filled with collections of butterflies, discarded beehives and exotic fish. Her mother was an artist who taught drawing to neighbourhood children every Sunday morning, Helen among them. From an early age she studied and painted nature. So the family was not surprised that she grew up to share these two passions.

In 1947 she arrived at Savary with her husband Tom and daughter Anne. They had rented the Stoddart cottage just beside their close friends Tony and Dorothy McIntyre and at that moment this welcoming island joined the family's history and inspired her work.

Helen Griffin was a twentieth century artist. When these sketchbooks began, in 1952, she was learning about artistic expression, not just in painting but in all of the arts and architecture. The optimism and vitality of the postwar era were invigorating. Modernism was thriving. She was painting and sketching whenever she could.

It was an exciting time when the art world was searching for meaning in new and original expression. Picasso, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Rothko and Warhol, among many others, were revolutionary artists influencing the moment. This world was topical and controversial. Helen Griffin was searching too. Savary was becoming her anchor. For her, this island brought the earth, the sea and history to the front of the philosophical landscape.

Helen had earned a degree in bacteriology from the University of British Columbia in the late thirties. In 1963, she decided to return for a Master of Arts degree. Fulfilling a credit prerequisite, she enrolled in a Chinese studies course. As a child she had been intrigued by friends' fathers' travels to the Orient and the gifts that they had brought home. In this course and in further study of Chinese painting she discovered an entire culture that celebrates the portrayal of nature. This was the beginning of fulfillment in the artist's quest. She was often heard to say: "Chinese paintings are meant to be spiritually uplifting rather than provide social comment."

She graduated in 1968 and went on to initiate a doctorate in Taipei in 1969 after courses in Mandarin at Stanford University in California. In 1971 she visited communist China as an illustrator for Vancouver journalist Lisa Hobbs. Throughout the next fifteen years she returned to Asia several times, exhibiting in Hong Kong, Tokyo and twice at the National Museum of History in Taipei, once in 1974 and again in 1977. In 1982 she was honoured with a solo exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing, the first for a Western artist since the Cultural Revolution.

As the Western world was developing a contemporary passion for the Orient, the reverse was also true. Her work was very popular in China. It included large enveloping landscapes and detailed studies of wildflowers painted on rice paper with Oriental ink and Windsor & Newton watercolours. The paintings showed Western subjects with a profound reverence for nature and a great respect for Asian methods. The work had been initiated and nurtured during her summers at Savary Island.

She died in 1984, long before her time, leaving 140 sketchbooks to the family. They were diaries, sketches for later paintings, and travelogues. She would write recipes in them, notes from lectures, grocery lists and once, the semblance of a will. But most of the work was drawing. They illustrate her life and times and also a woman moving through knowledge to wisdom. They show her first works, some in ballpoint pen, tentative, and her last paintings, full of confidence not just in her talent but also in her vision. These books are compiled from this collection. They are an important historical record of the island that my parents first fell in love with in 1947."
(Source: Helen Griffin's Savary Island)
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