Katharine Maltwood: Seeking the Tree of Life

Portrait of Katharine Maltwood holding a sculpture.
Portrait of Katharine Maltwood holding a sculpture.


The work of Katharine Maltwood is a reflection of her life experiences and the era in which she came of age. Influenced by the Victorian belief that industrialization threatened the physical and spiritual health of both individuals and society – and as witness to the horrors of the First and Second World Wars – Maltwood’s research and artistic work can be seen as a rebellion against the radical and large-scale social transformations taking place around her. John Maltwood aptly described his partner by saying “all her work contained a thought – a lesson.” This explanation of Maltwood’s research and artistic creations emphasizes her vision of art as a teaching tool and call to return to spiritual idealism espoused in the late nineteenth century. Katharine Maltwood’s art works and historic and folkloric research were designed to communicate and inspire philosophical thought and emotional experience.

Knight's armour sketch by Katharine Maltwood          Canada Awakening to her Destiny by Katharine Maltwood          A Guide to Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars: Its Giant Effigies Described from Air Views, Maps, and from           Katharine Maltwood's Royal Oak home,


Items in the Katharine Maltwood fonds demonstrate a strong connection with place: many resources describe, document, or re-envision terrestrial areas (Glastonbury and Vancouver Island are well represented in the collection), as well as interior spaces including the art studios and households she inhabited throughout her life. This abundance of interior and exterior landscapes emphasises Maltwood’s connection with the histories and lore of the world around her. Documents describing her travel experiences as well as newspaper and magazine clippings of visual culture from around the globe are both a testament to her creative curiosity and demonstrate her life’s work in search of divine knowledge.

Correspondence to Katharine Maltwood from the Theosophorical Society in Canada, December 6, 1936          Extracts from some reviews of A Guide to Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars          Katharine Maltwood standing by a stone on the banks of the Cary River           Katharine Maltwood as an older woman

Maltwood believed the wisdom embodied in the Glastonbury Zodiac – and within all creative works – reflected both mystical ideals and the evolution of human consciousness. Thus, for Maltwood, art served as an instructive and redemptive force, one that was intended to be passed down to subsequent generations. With the Katharine Maltwood fonds available online as a digital collection, the Legacy Art Galleries and the University of Victoria Special Collections are fulfilling this legacy.