In 1927, 17-year-old Cyril Rodd helped out family friend Emily Carr.
“He did some yard work and walked her dog and her monkey,” recounts Cyril’s son Peter.
“He would tie [the animals] together. The dog would run and the monkey would get tired, and it would wrap itself around a lamp post to stop it.”
Carr repaid his kindness by giving Rodd a ceramic eagle bowl and totem pole, signed in her native alter ego, Klee Wyck.
She made a special Christmas card for Rodd, whom she called “Twinkie.” It featured a watercolour of her monkey, Woo, in a pink dress, and came with a little poem: “That all good things/May come to you/Is the wish/Of little Woo.”
She also gave “Mr. Twinkie Rodd” a cheque for $2.50. But he never cashed it, because he felt she was too poor and couldn’t afford to give him the money.
Rodd’s family had their own financial problems during the Depression, and work and the Second World War took him away from Carr. He held on to the cheque, however, along with the ceramics and Christmas card.
“She was a special person in his life,” reasons Peter Rodd. “Added some colour and excitement, I guess.”
For decades, the Carr items sat on a bookshelf in the log house Rodd built on the Sidney waterfront on Vancouver Island. Rodd died in 1961, but his widow held onto the mementoes until her death last fall.
Now their sons have decided to sell off Cyril Rodd’s Carr collection. They will be offered in three lots at the May 26 Heffel auction of Fine Canadian Art at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The ceramic totem pole and cheque are packaged with a boy-scout diary in which Rodd describes receiving the items, and have an estimated value of $7,000 to $9,000.
The handmade Christmas card with Woo the monkey has also been valued at $7,000 to $9,000, while the Klee Wyck eagle bowl has an estimated value of $4,000 to $6,000.
That’s a big increase from the price it would have fetched in 1927.
“A lot of the Klee Wycks that turn up will have price tags still on them, and they’ll be five cents, two cents, three cents, a dime,” said auctioneer David Heffel. “She was quite prolific. They were sold in Banff and various tourist outlets.”
Heffel said when Klee Wyck ceramics do turn up, they’re often well used.
“Many people would have no idea what they are,” he said. “Often they come in and they were physically used as they were produced. Candle holders will be full of wax; cigarette trays [will have cigarette ashes ground in].”
The Rodd totem pole, in fact, has a hole in the back that was designed for a cord, so it could be converted into an electric lamp. Bryan Adams reportedly has a similar one that was converted to a lamp.
In Rodd’s boy-scout journal, though, it says Carr told him it was a bird stand. There are several drawings by Rodd speculating on what it would look like with a wooden top and a bird.
Carr, of course, kept a parrot, as well as a monkey and dog.
“I love the story in one of Carr’s books where the monkey would answer her phone and put the receiver in front of the parrot,” said Heffel. “The parrot would say “˜Hello hello hello,’ and whoever was trying to get through to Carr would have no luck.”
The Heffel auction set the record for an Emily Carr painting on June 17, 2009 at the convention centre, bringing in $2,164,500 for her 1936-39 painting Wind in the Tree Tops.
This spring’s auction features nine Carr paintings, including two that carry an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, Emily and Lizzie (from 1913) and Stumps (1936).
Sadly, Rodd failed to acquire any Emily Carr paintings during their friendship. “Well, he was only 17 years old,” said Peter Rodd. “I don’t think he even thought of that. Too bad, in retrospect, but who would know?”