Renowned Vernon artist Sveva Caetani's home opening to the public | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Renowned Vernon artist Sveva Caetani's home opening to the public

Ofelia, Sveva and Leone Caetani
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Caetani Centre
June 28, 2021 - 7:30 AM

Beloved Vernon teacher, artist and writer Sveva Caetani’s works have returned to the city after a nearly 35-year hiatus.

Sveva Caetani, daughter of Leone Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, is well-known for her family story and for her Pleasant Valley Road home, now the Caetani Centre, a cultural centre that hosts events and houses local artists and those from around the world.

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“This family was one of the top six families in Italy for over 1,000 years. And Sveva was the last of that family,” said executive director Susan Brandoli, with the Caetani Cultural Centre Society.

“Her story is really quite fascinating and interesting and there’s still a lot we don’t know about, it’s quite mysterious as well.”

Her family immigrated from Italy to Canada in 1921 under mysterious circumstances. Leaving Italy abruptly, Sveva and her parents arrived at Okanagan Landing by paddlewheel with 33 trunks. They would continue to travel back and forth to Europe and lived a life of luxury until the economic crash of 1929 decimated their fortunes, according to the centre.

“Coming from really one of the top families in Italy, how did they get here? Why did her father leave Italy? He had 17 titles and vast estates and he gave up everything to come to Canada,” Brandoli said. “The story has really captivated the imagination of many different writers and artists and poets.”

Sveva's early education was conducted by tutors and English governesses who lived with and accompanied the Caetani family wherever they travelled. The trips discontinued following the crash, the tutors and governesses were let go, and Sveva was sent to the private girl's school Crofton House, in Vancouver. 

She remained there until 1932, when she was removed from the school after suffering from measles. In the years following the stock market crash, Leone's health also began to fail, according to MemoryB.C., a portal used to find B.C.’s archival history.

Leone died in 1935. Afterwards, 17-year-old Sveva was kept a prisoner in her home for more than 25 years by her mother, Ofelia, who refused to let her leave the home or see friends, Brandoli said.

Sveva Caetani at the Recapitulation premiere in Vernon.
Sveva Caetani at the Recapitulation premiere in Vernon.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Caetani Centre

During this time, Ofelia wouldn't let her daughter paint or be creative, joys Sveva experienced with her father when he was alive. Sveva was left with books sent by an aunt, her father’s library, and her own thoughts, according to MemoryB.C.

She began to paint, draw and write again after her mother’s death in 1960, when Sveva was in her early 40s.

Caetani taught at St. James School and Charles Bloom Secondary in Lumby and many North Okanagan residents still remember her.

“She was a real icon in the community and she used to have the best Halloween treats, so people loved coming here for Halloween,” Brandoli said.

The main floor of the house is a heritage display and the gallery space is housing Caetani’s life work, titled Recapitulation, she said.

The series includes more than 50 vibrant large-scale watercolour paintings documenting Caetani’s life story and outlook on life. It was previously under the care of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts in Edmonton for almost 35 years.

This summer, the Caetani Centre is offering tours of Sveva’s artwork along with Caetani family artifacts and memorabilia for the first time since the house was donated to the Greater Vernon community in 1994.

It was built by Samuel Sommerville, in 1895, and is described as Late Victorian Vernacular Revival Style. It is a recognized and designated heritage building and registered with the City of Vernon. This month marks the family's 100th anniversary since arriving to Vernon from Italy. The house and grounds are owned by the City of Vernon, and operated by the Caetani Cultural Centre Society.

The Caetani’s 126-year-old house is also a popular place for ghost stories, Brandoli said. 

Laisha Rosnau, a Canadian author who was doing a reading out of Little Fortress, based on the Caetani story, was doing a book launch at the house and during a reading when she got to Sveva’s part, all the lights in the gallery started flickering on and off, something that never happened before or after the incident, Brandoli said.

“People who have lived in the house have some really interesting stories,” she said. “When working here alone and stuff, you hear doors closing and things like that.”

Sveva’s unusual story has been the inspiration for many books and films. The tours begin in July and are limited to small groups following public health restrictions.

To book a tour, visit the centre's website or call 250-275-1525.

Sveva Caetani
Sveva Caetani
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Caetani Centre

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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