Stouck wins Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize
“Winning the Stuart-Stubbs Prize is important," says David Stouck, "because it helps spread the word to those I consider the book's first audience – the people of B.C.”
May 22nd, 2014
The second annual prize for best scholarly book about British Columbia will be presented to Arthur Erickson biographer David Stouck at UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre on June 5, 2014.
After David Stouck’s Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life (D&M 2013) was nominated for the 2014 RBC Charles Taylor Non-Fiction Prize in early 2014, David Stouck received both the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize for best book about B.C. and the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize at the 2014 B.C. Book Prizes on May 3, 2014. Now he has learned he has won his third book prize in the same month.
The Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia was established in memory of Basil Stuart-Stubbs, a bibliophile, scholar and librarian who passed away in 2012. Stuart-Stubbs’s many accomplishments included serving as the University Librarian at UBC Library and as the Director of UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. Stuart-Stubbs also had a leadership role in many national and regional library and publishing activities. During his exceptional career, he took particular interest in the production and distribution of Canadian books, and was associated with several initiatives beneficial to authors and their readers, and to Canadian publishing.
The judges for scholarly book award met and made their decision back on February 3, 2014 (Basil Stuart-Stubbs’ birthday). On behalf of the judging committee, historian Roderick Barman wrote: “An iconic figure in the cultural heritage of British Columbia, Arthur Erickson (1924-2009) has received in David Stouck’s new biography a thoroughly researched, revealing, and honest yet friendly study of his complex character, notable achievements and marked failings. The judges of the Basil Stuart Stubbs prize are honoured to give this year’s award to Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life. This well-written, finely-crafted work elucidates not only the individual but the culture – provincial, national and global – in which he lived, which shaped him and which he himself did much to shape.”
A review in Macleans magazine has concurred, “Stouck… offers a serious, sympathetic portrait of a walking contradiction.” BC Studies praised the book, saying, “David Stouck has written a remarkable history. More than a biography, it is an encompassing account of a remarkable figure in later modern Canadian and international cultural history.”
“Congratulations to David Stouck for winning the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize,” says Ingrid Parent, UBC’s University Librarian. “His study of a complex man and a brilliant architect offers an absorbing profile of an iconic British Columbian.”
Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life is the first full biography of Erickson, who died in 2009 at the age of 84, and traces his life from its modest origins to his emergence on the world stage. It was one of three shortlisted titles for the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize. The other nominees included Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History by Sean Kheraj (UBC Press) and Charles Edenshaw by Robin Kathleen Wright, Daina Augaitis, Robert Davidson and James Hart (Black Dog Publishing) For the full citations, please visit Shortlist 2014).
At the BC Book Prizes gala, where Stouck was a double winner along with fiction writer Ashley Little, Stouck thanked Ethel Wilson’s niece, Mary Buckerfield White, for suggesting he should write the biography of her friend, Erickson.
“It was an enormous privilege to approach and study the man whose buildings and their theoretical extensions have had such an impact on our lives,” said Stouck, when accepting the Haig-Brown Prize, “I thank my wife Mary-Ann for agreeing to travel to some unlikely parts of the world in the footsteps of my subject. I thank my friend Wayne Elwood and my editor Barbara Pulling for their professional help in reducing the original manuscript by 40,000 words. The biography was published because of two venerable figures in this province’s publishing industry. Scott McIntyre responded enthusiastically to the manuscript when I submitted it in 2011 and, after Douglas and McIntyre closed, Howard White in 2013 made it possible that the book go forward. I thank them both. I would also like to pay tribute to Roderick Haig-Brown for whom this prize is named, by quoting something that Ethel Wilson wrote. ‘A man writes about a river,’ she says, but ‘Roderick Haig-Brown writes about a river that never sleeps. That is to say, there is truth and there is creation; the outward eye and the inward eye. And that is one of the mysteries that make literature.’ And I would add that it is only with the inward eye that we truly perceive the buildings of Arthur Erickson.”
During the gala in 2014, the host asked if anyone had ever met Ethel Wilson, born in 1888, after whom the province’s annual fiction prize is named. David Stouck was the only person able to put up his hand. Stouck’s Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography (UTP, 2003) replaces a much earlier study by Wilson’s colleague Desmond Pacey and a more recent portrait by her intensely loyal friend Mary McAlpine called the The Other Side of Silence. McAlpine’s biography is inaccurate and doesn’t explore the genesis of Wilson’s stories and novels with much depth. Stouck’s biography benefits from painstaking research into Wilson’s voluminous correspondence, revealing how the fiction and the life were meshed. It is the most complete and fair-minded biography of a major British Columbian literary figure if one disregards the relative ‘drop-ins’ to B.C., Malcolm Lowry and Pauline Johnson. Despite its literary and scholarly mandate, Stouck’s Ethel Wilson biography was shortlisted for the 2004 VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women’s issues by a B.C. author.
[Whereas E. Bennett Metcalfe’s fascinating and frequently brilliant biography of Roderick Haig-Brown, A Man of Some Importance, goes out of its way to be contentious, Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography is responsible scholarship that reveals Wilson’s character with consistent respect and care. The other persons after whom B.C. Book Prizes are named–poet Dorothy Livesay, bookseller Bill Duthie, children’s literature critic Sheila A. Egoff and children’s author Christie Harris–are not subjects for biographies, although Livesay likely will be. Alan Twigg’s Hubert Evans: The First Ninety-Three Years was never intended to serve as a biography and was commissioned as a series of introductions to Evans’ work for a omnibus reader that was never published.]
David Stouck has been one of the relatively few English professors with an abiding critical interest in British Columbia writing. Along with his biography of Ethel Wilson, he has provided a biography of Sinclair Ross, the author of As for Me and My House, who spent his final years in Vancouver. He followed his Sinclair Ross biography by co-editing a collection of Ross correspondence entitled Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933-1986, with Jordan Stouck.
Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life (Douglas & McIntyre, 2013)
Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933-1986 (University of Alberta Press, 2010), co-edited with Jordan Stouck.
As for Sinclair Ross, (University of Toronto Press, 2005)
Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography, (University of Toronto Press, 2003)
Genius of Place: Writing about British Columbia (co-ed.), (Polestar, 2000)
West by Northwest: British Columbia Short Stories (co-ed.), (Polestar, 1998)
Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!: A Scholarly Edition (co-ed.), (U Nebraska Press, 1993)
Sinclair Ross’s ‘As for Me and My House’: Five Decades of Criticism, (ed.) (University of Toronto Press, 1991)
Ethel Wilson: Stories, Essays, and Letters (ed.), (UBC Press, 1987)
The Wardells and Vosburghs: Records of a Loyalist Family (Jordan Hist. Museum of the Twenty, 1986)
Major Canadian Authors: A Critical Introduction Lincoln (University of Nebraska Press, 1984)
Willa Cather’s Imagination (University of Nebraska Press, 1975)
HERE IS A REVIEW OF ARTHUR ERICKSON: AN ARCHITECT’S LIFE, FROM BC BOOKWORLD, BY SHANE MCCUNE.
It must be a dilemma for any biographer of a creative person: How much do you focus on the life and how much on the work?
The problem is magnified in the case of Arthur Charles Erickson, Canada’s best-known architect. Because in addition to all that iconic concrete and glass, there’s a lesser-known private life that is positively baroque.
In Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life, David Stouck wisely takes the middle road, a more or less chronological approach that opens and closes with insights into the man and the people he loved, with stops in between at the major events, encounters and works of a half-century career.
The early chapters are a revelation. Arthur’s parents, Oscar and Myrtle Erickson, were an ebullient and eccentric pair straight out of You Can’t Take It With You. Despite losing his legs in the First World War, Oscar was a dynamo at his dry goods business, a keen sportsman and an amateur painter. Myrtle was an enthusiastic, if not entirely competent, cook, social convenor and arts patron who helped found the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Once, after a quarrel, Arthur’s younger brother Don killed all the fish in Arthur’s aquarium. The family couldn’t afford to restock the tank, so at his mother’s urging Arthur painted fish on his bedroom walls instead.
“He began by copying two fish from photographs in National Geographic and then, with growing confidence, covered all four walls of his room with underwater scenes featuring sunken wrecks, seahorses, sharks, shrimp.”
Impressed, his father bought the boy his own set of paints. Arthur then painted his brother’s room in a jungle theme, making it a favourite hangout for neighbourhood boys. Then one of Myrtle’s friends paid the budding muralist $50 to paint an English hunting scene in her basement.
The book includes strikingly detailed accounts, not only of Arthur’s accomplishments and education, but also of his adventures with friends and even of his thoughts.
Stouck says in an author’s note that the biography is “grounded” in a series of interviews with Erickson in the four years preceding his death in 2009. But he has also spoken to dozens of the architect’s friends, family and associates, going back to his adolescence in the 1930s. Fortunately, several key figures lived into their 80s with their memories in good shape, as well as Jessie Binning at age 100.
Despite lacklustre UBC grades, Erickson was accepted into the architecture program at McGill thanks to the intercession of Lawren Harris, who was part of his mother’s arty set in Vancouver. Erickson was especially taken with Mies van der Rohe’s expansive use of glass and Le Corbusier’s work with concrete — two media that would dominate Erickson’s major designs.
In the summer of 1949 he worked with a Vancouver architect whose commissions included Park Royal in West Vancouver, the first covered shopping centre in Canada. And from this juncture architecture projects become the principal plot driver of Stouck’s book, along with the incessant travel that became a constant in Erickson’s life.
One of Erickson’s first and most celebrated commissions was the Filberg House in Comox, designed for the heir to a lumber fortune, who intended it to be a conference centre for world leaders.
The design incorporated, as Stouck relates, “elements from Andalusian Islamic architecture — delicate filigreed screens to fend off the direct sun, highly polished terrazzo floors, and a reflecting pool.”
It was by all accounts a stunning design that boosted Erickson’s reputation, especially after a photo spread in Canadian Architect magazine. Yet Stouck notes that the accompanying text by Abraham Rogatnick (at one time a teaching colleague of Erickson’s at UBC) touched on a criticism that would dog Erickson throughout his career, that of pandering to the rich.
“There is a touch of Versailles here,” Rogatnick wrote. The dramatic lines and flourishes “all culminate in the kind of inevitable formality which fine clothes, epicurean tastes, and a luxurious atmosphere unconsciously impose. This house will be hated by Puritans, as it will be loved by purists.”
But Erickson didn’t hit the big time until he and partner Geoff Massey won the competition to design Simon Fraser University. That caffeinated project — just 28 months in the making from design competition announcement in May 1963 to opening classes in September 1965 — would embody the best and worst of Erickson: His bold vision and self-assurance, his defiance of authority and above all his impatience with trifles like leaky roofs.
Stouck insists the leaks weren’t a product of Erickson’s design but caused by substitution of materials and poor work by subcontractors. But he doesn’t mention that a legal wrangle with the university dragged on until a 1976 settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed.
Other Erickson projects, including the courthouse at Robson Square and the Waterfall Building in downtown Vancouver, developed leaks.
In chapter 12, David Stouck introduces us to Francisco Kripacz, “a dark-skinned, handsome boy of about 19” whom Erickson met at a party in 1961. Within a year they would become “partners” (for some reason Stouck doesn’t call them “lovers”).
Most of Erickson’s friends took a strong dislike to him, though Stouck suggests this may have been because it forced them to acknowledge that Erickson was gay.
Stouck himself seems less than fond of Kripacz, but he holds back, perhaps out of respect for his subject.
“I visited Arthur and showed him the biographies I had written of writers Ethel Wilson and Sinclair Ross, and he was especially interested in my handling of Ross’s bisexuality,” Stouck wrote in the Globe and Mail shortly after Erickson’s death.
“He wanted to know how I would tell the story of his long friendship with the designer, Francisco Kripacz, and he made it clear that while he didn’t want the story to be sensational he wanted it to be frank. He hoped, on the other hand, that I would limit the details of his bankruptcy, but placed no restrictions.”
Ultimately the book is more frank about the bankruptcy than the relationship, although Stouck clearly links the two.
Erickson opened an office in Los Angeles to prepare for a massive downtown renovation project, and he bought a house among the movie stars in Bel-Air. “Arthur was easily seduced into this good life as Francisco arranged it, and in the 1980s, they lived in extravagant luxury,” Stouck writes.
As the decade progressed, there were episodes with sheriffs and bailiffs. Clients’ payments to the Toronto office were shifted to L.A., where Erickson and Kripacz tooled around in a Maserati and Lamborghini, respectively, and spent almost $1 million on renovations to an office with a three-year lease.
Stouck acknowledges all this, yet always plays up the humane, even humble character of his subject. That’s hard to reconcile with the way Erickson squandered his backers’ money on himself and Kripacz while his staff ran out of office supplies.
There is much about hobnobbing with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine, Katharine Hepburn, Donald Sutherland, Richard Gere, sundry counts and contessas, arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Charitable works? Not so much. Eventually Kripacz took up with a teenaged student (identified only as Jan) and Erickson with a young married man named Allen Steele.
By the end of 1990 both Jan and Allen would be dead of AIDS-related illnesses, and in 1992 Erickson declared personal bankruptcy.
Toward the end of his career he worked for a former employee and designed the new Portland Hotel, a public housing project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For once he stayed within budget while demonstrating genuine thoughtfulness in designing living spaces that would withstand rough treatment while affording as much privacy and dignity as possible.
Fans of architecture might argue that the discussions of style and design Stouck raises with each project do not sufficiently address some of the biggest criticisms levelled at Erickson’s public works — that they are monumental, impractical and cold.
But in the end, the narrative of Erickson’s life carries the day, as is only fair for a book subtitled An Architect’s Life. It’s an adventure story and a morality play, and David Stouck is smart and skilled enough not to paint the lily. 978-1-77100-011-6
Shane McCune writes from Comox
PREVIOUS BOOKS ON ARTHUR ERICKSON:
The Architecture of Arthur Erickson (Tundra, 1975; Douglas & McIntyre, 1988) by Arthur Erickson examines the career as the man who designed Simon Fraser University, Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and the Robson Square Complex.
Erickson is also the subject of Edith Iglauer’s Seven Stones (Harbour, 1981), excerpts of which appeared in The New Yorker.
In 2006, an overview of Erickson’s best work was written and edited by Nicholas Olsberg of Arizona for Arthur Erickson: Critical Works (Douglas & McIntyre, 2006), featuring photographs by Ricardo L. Castro of Montreal.