In my ongoing exploration of Vancouver’s murals, I present to you one rare and extraordinary survivor from one of Vancouver’s greatest hotels. The Landing of Captain Vancouver by American artist Marion Powers Kirkpatrick. This mural measuring 8 x 16 feet once hung in the magnificent CPR Hotel Vancouver #2 of 1916. Paul Sternberg, Sr. writes about the artist in his book "Art by American Women":
Born in London, England of American parents, Marion Powers excelled in vibrant still lifes that had textile designs in them and large-scale murals. She began art study in London and then in Paris.
She married the English painter, W.A.B. Kirkpatrick [William Arber Brown Kirkpatrick], and in 1906, they settled in Waldeboro, Maine. Prior to living in Waldoboro and Friendship (summer studio) Maine, she and her husband maintained a studio in Boston. She executed a mural at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Hotel Vancouver in British Columbia and also did still life with randomly displayed objects, painted only for the purpose of showing the objects.
She was an illustrator for “Harper’s” Magazine. She illustrated many magazine covers for Woman’s Home companion, Sunday Magazine various books as well as advertisements for Jello. Many of her still lifes involve food or flower arrangements with very brilliant colors. From 1906 to 1929, she exhibited numerous times at the annual exhibitions of the National and Pennsylvania Academies and was in many other exhibitions.
She is in the permanent collection of the Lourvre in Paris.
Not much is known about Marion Powers Kirkpatrick’s connection to Vancouver, but it is perhaps possible that Francis S. Swales, the architect of the hotel saw her work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and commissioned this mural in time for the Hotel’s grand opening in 1916.
The August 1916 edition of the Architect magazine is dedicated to the hotel, featuring text written by none other than the architect himself, Francis S. Swales. I got very excited recently when I discovered that this entire issue of the Architect is available on archive.org; I had seen the copy at the Vancouver Archives last year, and it is a phenomenal view of the greatest hotel we ever had. I actually searched all other posted issues of the Architect but failed to find any other major articles about Vancouver. But back to the mural, about which the architect writes:
A beautifully composed and richly colored decorative picture in the central lunette over the back bar, painted by Marion Powers Kirkpatrick, of Boston, is comparable with the work of Frank Braugwyn and gives the necessary glowing note of color that prevents what might otherwise be a somber effect.
The accompanying photos just barely show the mural in position over the bar on the lower level of the hotel. It’s hard to imagine having anything somber to say about the Hotel Vancouver #2, except for the fact that it was demolished just 33 years after it was built to make way for a parking lot.
This mural is currently on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where it is part of their permanent collection. The fact that this mural outlived the hotel is something of small miracle. The mural’s second home also faced the wrecking ball, but fortunately for us, it was once again rescued at the last moment. From the description of the artwork at the museum:
Commissioned from an unknown source, Boston area artist Marion Powers Kirkpatrick created this mural to hang in the Hotel Vancouver. The painting was later installed in the lobby of Pier BC, over the double doors in the lobby that led to the walkway along the roof over the sheds of the pier. Pier BC was opened in 1927, but it is not known when exactly the painting was installed [I speculate it was probably just prior to the demolition of the hotel in 1949 when most of the hotel fixtures were auctioned off]. It hung there until 1980, a few days before Pier BC was demolished. Canada Place is where Pier BC used to be.
As for the depictions in the mural itself, I will refrain from being too critical of the subject matter. The scene is pure historical fantasy. If the Native Indians on the far right of the scene appear to be out of place, remember this was painted by an American woman from Boston who lived in a time long before the aid of the Internet. Captain George Vancouver’s musclebound crew are seen showing off their shirtless bodies while feasting on a tropical bounty no doubt just in from Hawaii. The small child in the foreground acts as a reminder of man’s responsibilities, fitting for all those who find themselves seated in front of the bar for too long.
This nearly 100 year old work of art is one of our city’s great hidden gems. I highly recommend a trip to the Maritime Museum to see it in person, and when you do, try to imagine what it must have been like to sit at this bar when the hotel was just one year old and prohibition kicked into effect for four long years (October 1, 1917–June 14, 1921).