Matriarchal Appreciation - May 9, 2022
Updated: May 17
While our field trips today aimed to highlight curated art and exemplary west coast modern design, there was also an underlying theme throughout our visits: iconic women. When doing my research before our visit, I began by doing some reading on the West Vancouver Museum’s website and decided to do my post on schoolteacher Gertrude Lawson. While Gertrude did come from an upper-class family, it excited me that we’d be visiting a home owned by one of the first women in British Columbia to have a mortgage in her own name. According to Janet Nicol of Montecristo Magazine, two female colleagues agreed to invest in the property with Gertrude. They backed out due to political tensions prior to World War II (Nicol, 2021). What astounds me is the determination for Gertrude to build this home regardless of the political climate and move on to host frequent gatherings and create a sense of community in West Vancouver. This idea of a community in West Vancouver that Gertrude contributed to reminded me of the discussion on community revolving around Douglas Coupland's Rabbit Lane exhibition. While the exhibition works emphasize ideas that differ from what is highlighted in the book, I got a sense from our discussion that the environment and community of West Vancouver was a dominant theme in Douglas Coupland’s work in general.
Leaving the West Vancouver Museum, I was inspired by the legend of Gertrude Lawson. Upon our arrival at Smith House II, it was hard to let my mind drift and think about anything besides the extraordinary architecture that Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey conceived of. We spent a great deal of time outside the home discussing the primary design moves and eventually, and carefully, made our way into the home. I was fascinated by the placement of the house within the rocky outcrop and the reflections of water and trees on the glazing and beams inside the home. When we were about to leave the main living room and enter the sleeping area, the current homeowner, Daina Augaitis, mentioned that we might notice some carpets created by the original owner, Marion Smith. Daina continued to make short mentions of Marion’s contributions to the home, not only in terms of furniture or textiles. It was mentioned that artist Gordon Smith would always consult Marion about his art pieces, the concept for the home, and just about everything. It became abundantly clear that Marion's role was to oversee this home and contribute equally. Architecturally speaking, Marion's weaving studio is the very top room of the entire house. This is important because it means that Arthur, Massey, and Gordon all understood that Marion deserved to sit above every other room in the house, to which the entire house spirals around. Additionally, Marion’s room oversees the entrance and carpark, to which she can be sure to know who is arriving and leaving at any time. More importantly than her ability to oversee, the weaving room is one of the few rooms with a direct sightline from the carpark. It must have been no coincidence that her room is the first and primary room we see when we arrive at the home. Imperative discussion surrounding themes of gender and domesticity can be found in Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture (2005) by Hilde Heynen. Heynen includes an entire chapter on gender and Adolf Loos, discussing his opinions and writings on femininity and ‘the poor little rich man.
Ultimately, this overarching theme of matriarchal and female power made this day even more enjoyable. When we talk about architecture from the modernism period and prior, 99% of the works and architects we speak of are male. It was refreshing to feel female energy in today's discussion and be able to spend today appreciating their contribution to west coast modernism.
Heynen, Hilde. Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture.
Edited by Hilde Heynen, and Gülsüm Baydar. Routledge, London; New York; 2005,
Nicol, Janet. “A Schoolteacher Was One of the First Single Women in B.C. to Hold a Mortgage. The
Manor She Built Still Stands.” Montecristo Magazine, 29 Jan. 2021, https://bit.ly/3M1o41k.