Grand Dames of the Cariboo is an unconventional and lively retrospective on the lives of two well known Cariboo artists, Vivien Cowan and her daughter Sonia Cornwall.
Julie Fowler researched and wrote the book for her masters thesis in creative non-fiction taken at the University of B.C. Okanagan.
The desire to create the book about these two artists came to her when she was invited by a friend to attend Sonia Cornwall’s memorial service.
In taking the biography into the realm of creative non-fiction Fowler placed herself squarely in the centre of the book as if she had actually met them.
The banter back and forth between Fowler, and her “grand dames of the Cariboo” make for a more interesting read than the average biography.
While she started out to make Sonia the focus of her work, Fowler says she discovered Sonia’s mother Vivien Cowan who ultimately became the main focus in the book.
A rancher’s wife with a passion for painting Vivien helped to found the Cariboo Art Society with Group of Seven artists Joe Plaskett and A.Y. Jackson back in 1945 when they would visit the Cowan’s Onward Ranch to paint for weeks at a time.
Over a six year period Fowler created her intimate portrait of the artists through her research which included interviews with family members, information found at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, and various stories and a special packet of letters given to her.
“The artist Joseph Plaskett, whom I had the great pleasure of interviewing back in 2008 initiated Vivien’s takeover of my story when he gave me over 200 original pages of letters that he’d received from her over the course of their close friendship from 1946 to just before she passed away in 1990,” Fowler says in her introduction.
“To further this I found much about Vivien’s life, along with her famous hunting guide husband, Charles Cowan, documented in the family archives and in the Museum of the Cariboo-Chilcotin in Williams Lake.”
The book, she admits, is also an exploration of her own artistic pursuits.
Peppered through the book are many photographs of their artistic creations.
Fowler will host a reading and slide show about her new book The Grand Dames of the Cariboo, at the Williams Lake Library, on Friday, Nov. 29 starting at 1 p.m.
She will also hold a book signing at the Station House Art Gallery on Saturday, Nov. 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Fowler, is the executive director of the Island Mountain Arts Society in Wells, and co-founder of ArtsWells.