Carol Noriko Genn was very good at teaching the artists in her life how to flourish
Carol Noriko Shimozawa Genn: Traveler. Spouse. Mother. Artist. Born March 30, 1940 in Ocean Falls, BC; died on July 31, 2021 in Surrey, British Columbia, of breast cancer, at the age of 81.
When Canada declared war on Japan in 1941, one-year-old Carol Noriko and her family were forced from Ocean Falls, British Columbia, and sent to the farming town of Letelier, Manitoba, where his father worked in the fields. The family fetched water from a nearby pond and strained it through a cloth before boiling it to drink.
When the war ended in 1945, the family found an apartment in north Winnipeg with a shared bathroom and no running hot water. After joining the Japanese United Church, the children were asked to choose their own name for baptism. And so, Noriko chose “Carol”, after a girl at school she thought was nice. In 1948, his parents had saved enough money to buy a house in the family neighborhood of East Kildonan. One of the house’s greatest features was its bathtub with running hot water – a beloved and integral aspect of life in Japan.
At 19, Carol joined Canadian Pacific Air Lines as a cabin attendant and moved to Vancouver. Her older sister, Atsuko, had been abandoned in Japan during the war, refused reunification with her family, and was raised in Tokyo by relatives. Carol and Atsuko now visited during Carol’s layovers in Tokyo, but Atsuko told Carol that she was too modern and westernized to make a good wife for a Japanese man. In 1962, a friend offered to introduce Carol to Robert Genn, a young painter from Victoria. “During this period of my life, love was abundant”, wrote Robert, 20 years later, in his memoirs on art.
In August 1964, Carol married Robert in a friend’s garden. They flew to Amsterdam, where they bought a Volkswagen Westfalia and embarked on a two-year honeymoon. Before that, they were camping; nailing Robert’s wet oil paintings to nearby trees to dry or storing them under the van overnight – only to wake up to find them criss-crossed with critters. With a cash advance from his art dealer, Robert had bought Carol a bathtub and tied it to the roof of the van.
Carol and Robert moved into a house above the Nicomekl River estuary in South Surrey, British Columbia. While Robert painted, Carol assessed the inclinations of their three young children. David and the twins James and Sarah. She went to a multitude of music lessons and studied classical guitar herself. She sewed costumes and clothes. When Robert had the idea of painting a girl in a blue and white striped dress, he described it to Carol, and she made it happen. When he asked for a polka dot one, she did too. She reupholstered the furniture and planted strawberries in an old barrel. Carol loved Can Lit, music and movies. She collected ceramics; from Saltspring, Mexico, Japan. During the school holidays, Robert and Carol take the children on a trip. On a first family tour of Western Europe, Carol outfitted her young children in dressy woolen coats and deerstalker hats, to flood them with three solid weeks of pouring rain.
Carol started a small business with a friend, arranging dried flowers, and collaborated with Robert on his work. At first, when he bought her a loom, however, she said, “I’ll do my own thing.” So she played tennis and then golf.
Just as Carol had accompanied Robert in the devotion of an artistic life, she pushed, mourned and applauded the creative pursuits of others, including her children. His style was understated and unwavering. “We felt we had to prepare you with the resilience that would be needed for a life in art,” she explained. Turns out, like a lot of things she got into, she was good at it. She was good at making artists. In recent years, when it seemed like her adult children’s creative triumphs may have outnumbered their setbacks, Carol continued her pep talks: “You’re on the right track.” “You did the job.” “It’s all yours now.”
Sara Genn is Carol’s daughter.
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