Newlywed Evelyn Berens did not know she would be starting a fad when she went through her husband’s wardrobe looking for suitable mountain-climbing attire for her honeymoon in 1901.
Many remarkable women followed Evelyn’s lead and rebelled against traditional attire – long dresses and corsets – by donning pants as they set out to explore the beauty of the Selkirk and Rocky mountains. One of the most well known of these women was Georgia Engelhard, who despite having a fear of heights ended up taking a liking to the sport and put up 32 first ascents in Canada. Soon she was scrambling up mountain peaks so quickly her guides, the Feuz brothers, claimed that, “she needs a mountain goat, not a guide” and often joked about putting rocks in her pack to slow her down. In 1929, she conquered nine peaks in nine days and her passion for rock climbing grew to equal that of any of her male counterparts of the same era.
In celebration of the many adventurers that have shaped Glacier National Park over the past 125 years, Parks Canada has unveiled a new exhibit at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre sharing the stories of the daring young women – such as Georgia Engelhard – who donned pants and explored our rich mountain wilderness. GeorgIa’s cropped hair and comfort wearing pants often got her in trouble as many
mistook her for a boy rather than a young lady. Today, you can try on a metal replica of Georgia’s pants at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and pose for a picture with Mount Tupper towering behind you.
More information about Georgia has been found here:
Georgia Engelhard was the first child of George Engelhard and Agnes Stieglitz. It is as the niece of Alfred Stieglitz, modernism’s most successful early booster in the United States, that Engelhard’s artistic career was encouraged. From the age of 12 to 22 she corresponded regularly with Stieglitz who serve as a confidant to the young woman. Engelhard occasionally posed for Stieglitz and the uncle honored her with an exhibition at his famous gallery, 291, when she was only ten years old. (Stieglitz’s motivation to show his niece’s work was more than likely a response to Wassily Kandinsky’s proposition that there was a fundamental spirituality to be found in true art and that children’s art had the ability to convey this “inner truth.”)
It is under the tutelage of Stieglitz’s wife, Georgia O’ Keeffe, that Engelhard matured as a painter. In biographies Engelhard is repeatedly mentioned as O’ Keeffe’s friend and companion. Georgia minor, as Engelhard was called, served as comic release for the older artist who often found Stieglitz and his family oppressive. The two artists frequently painted together at Stiegltiz’s summer house on Lake George and occasionally took excursions together. Engelhard’s paintings reflect O’ Keeffe’s influence—flat areas of pure color and sensuous curves are used to define the landscape. In both Abstraction and in Lake we see Engelhard’s enthusiasm for color and drama. The mountains are anything but static; undulating curves and constrasting colors provide an energy that is in keeping with the modernists’ enthusiasm for nature. Engelhard’s landscapes are more traditionally comprehensive than O’ Keeffe’s, who tended to focus in on an object or form.
Despite a paralyzing fear of heights, Engelhard became a premier mountain climber at the age of 20 and was the first female climber to ascend many of the peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Engelhard’s determination to overcome this specific fear evolved into a passion for the mountains that lasted throughout her lifetime and is made evident in paintings on the subject. Stieglitz’s biographer, Sue Davidson Lowe, believes that Lake is an impression of Lake Louise with Mt. Victoria in the background, a location where the artist often climbed. Abstraction may be scene recalled from her numerous climbs in the Swiss Alps.
Engelhard was also a writer and an accomplished photographer. In 1938 when she began living with Eaton Cromwell she stopped painting and together the couple pursued photography. While living in Switzerland they sold a number of their pictures to postcard companies. Few of Georgia Engelhard’s paintings are in existence today and when one does appear there is often a dispute about whether the canvas comes from O’ Keefe’s hands or Engelhard’s.
Photos-Top; Georgia Engelhard – Courtesy of Canadian Pacific Archives
Second from top; Georgia Engelhard and guide Ernest Feuz on Mount Victoria, Banff National Park, Alberta – Courtesy of Glenbow Archives; NA-4868-197
Third from top; “Abstraction” an oil on canvas by Georgia Engelhard – Courtesy of Jeri L. Waxenberg Wolfson collection
Bottom; “Lake” an oil on canvas by Georgia Engelhard – Courtesy of Jeri L. Waxenberg Wolfson collection.