Fonds MS 174;1996.063 - Sveva Caetani fonds

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Sveva Caetani fonds

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Fonds

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CA VERN MS 174;1996.063

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  • 1878-1996 (Creation)
    Creator
    Caetani, Sveva

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Physical description

5.12 m of textual records and other material

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(1917-1994)

Biographical history

Sveva Caetani was a long-time resident of Vernon - a well-liked teacher, and well-known local artist. The daughter of Leone Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, Sveva was born in Rome in Aug.1917. She died in Vernon, B.C. on 27 Apr.1994, at the age of 76. Sveva first arrived in Vernon, B.C. in June, 1921. Oblivious to the political and personal motivations which may have compelled her parents to leave their homeland, Sveva's childhood was one of wealth and privilege. Sheltered in their large house on Pleasant Valley Road, Sveva's early education was conducted by tutors and English governesses who lived with and accompanied the Caetani family wherever they travelled. During the first 10 years after arriving in Canada, the Caetani family frequently commuted back and forth between Canada and Europe. Combining business with pleasure, the Caetani's trips to Europe included visits to friends and relatives and stops at various real estate holdings. It was during the family's trip to Monte Carlo in 1929-1930, that Sveva was given private instructions in painting and drawing. Sveva shared a close and loving relationship with her father, Leone Caetani. In addition to their familial bond, Leone and Sveva shared a deep intellectual bond - a love of history and literature. During her childhood, Leone encouraged Sveva to read and write, to paint, and experience life. This bond was to be a great force in Sveva's later years. While her father's influence shaped her mind, it was her mother's influence which was to ultimately shape the course of Sveva's life. With the stockmarket crash of 1929, Sveva's life began to change drastically. The trips to Europe were discontinued, the tutors and governesses were let go, and Sveva was sent to a private girl's school, Crofton House, in Vancouver, B.C. She remained at Crofton House until mid-1932, when she was removed from the school after suffering a bout of measles. Additionally, in the years following the stock market crash, Leone's health began to fail. With Leone's death in 1935, the course of Sveva's life changed forever. Her mother Ofelia, emotionally devastated by Leone's death, retired into complete seclusion. Fearful of being abandoned, Ofelia compelled the then 18-year-old Sveva into sharing this seclusion with her. For the next 25 years, Sveva lived a life of great loneliness and pain. In addition to being restricted from leaving the house and grounds, Ofelia forbade Sveva the opportunity to indulge in her two greatest passions - painting and writing. In order to fill the gaps left by this isolation, Sveva turned to the books left by her father. Books became her lifeline to the world. Until her mother's death in 1960, Sveva lived life through these books. Although her life of isolation ended with her mother's death, Sveva was faced with another obstacle. In order to support herself, her mother's secretary/companion Miss Juul, and keep her only home, Sveva was forced to look for employment. Although she possessed little formal education, Sveva was able to obtain a position as French teacher at the St. James Catholic school in Vernon. She remained at St. James for over 5 years. In 1965, Sveva began attending the University of Victoria in order to obtain her high school diploma and teaching certificate. She completed her education in 1972. In 1973, she obtained a teaching job at Charles Bloom School in Lumby, where she continued to teach until her retirement in 1984. During her years in Lumby, Sveva began to paint again. Her most important project, a series of 54 paintings which she called Recapitulation, was begun while she was teaching. Completed in 1989, the Recapitulation series is a symbolic journey taken by Sveva, with her father as her guide. Inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, the large watercolour paintings examine many of the human conditions and elements of man and his existence. The Recapitulation series propelled Sveva into the limelight of the Canadian art world. Her national recognition came on the heels of a Vancouver exhibition of Recapitulation and a CBC Radio interview with Vicky Gabereau in 1991. Over the next few years, the Recapitulation series was exhibited in Nanaimo, Ottawa, Toronto, and Edmonton. It gradually became part of the permanent collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Shortly before her death in 1994, Sveva began working with a friend and colleague, Heidi Thompson, on a book of reproductions of her paintings. The book was to include accompanying text and poetry produced by Sveva. Sadly, Sveva did not live long enough to see the completed project. The book was published in November 1995, a year and a half after her death. Sveva Caetani is buried in the Caetani family plot in the Vernon Pleasant Valley cemetery, next to her father, mother, and lifelong companion, Miss Juul.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of the records and documents of Sveva Caetani from 1878-1996 which document her life, activities, interests and work. Fonds includes correspondence; personal journals and diaries; personal writings; educational and professional teaching records; personal data documents; examples of her artwork, tapestry designs, and architectural drawings; lists and inventories; newspaper articles and scrapbooks; ephemera; financial records; books and publications; and numerous audio and video cassettes. Fonds also includes the personal papers of Sveva's parents, Leone and Ofelia Caetani; her lifelong companion, Miss Juul; governess Miss White; and art teacher Andre Petroff. All records were collected and arranged by Sveva after the various creators' deaths.

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BCAUL control number: VERN-160

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