There are stories held in copper, healing and history.
This very land on which the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) stands holds copper—a gleaming metal that has far more cultural value than gold. YAC is located in the basin of Chasàn Chùa (McIntyre Creek)—translating to Copper Creek in Southern Tutchone—and where raw copper nuggets were retrieved to create art and tools. This exhibition of Indigenous copper work holds stories of sovereignty, sorrow and joy— united by this copper thread and the act of bringing knowledge and traditions forward.
About the Artist:
Anishinaabe artist Michael Belmore works primarily in sculpture. He employs a variety of materials, including wood, stone, and metals, and draws inspiration from his surroundings, exploring the dramatic effects of human activity on the landscape. Through his choice of subjects and materials, Belmore veers away from the capitalist view that nature is a commodity, something to be bought and sold.
This exhibition runs until July 29, 2022
A member of the Kaska Nation, Dennis Shorty has lived most of his life near Ross River, Yukon. By watching his grandfather and father carve traditional tools and toys, Dennis became interested in art.
For him, making art is a spiritual path and a way to communicate with his ancestors. After a difficult period in Residential Schools during the 60’s and 70’s when the Canadian government tried to assimilate Indigenous peoples and wipe out their culture, Dennis has led a strong personal mission to revive his cultural heritage.
Dennis’s mission in life, with his wife, Jenny, is to bring Kaska art, traditional music, language, and the foods of his ancestors, to a wider audience.
Yukon carver, Calvin Morberg, of the Dak’lawèidí (eagle clan) of the inland Tlingit Nation, immerses you in foundational Tlingit artistic traditions while exploring wood and copper.
“Through the art I create, my goal is to provide insights into our Tlingit ways, our cultural resilience through time and our current artistic resurgence. The concerted attempts by colonial government and religious institutions to repress our beliefs, language, culture, customs and ceremonial arts failed. Our people kept our traditions alive in their hearts and our art survived to help us reclaim and regain our spiritual heritage, traditional knowledge and connections and with spiritual power conveyed by and through art. Artists who are no longer with us embodied those teachings and their art has passed on knowledge to us. That’s what I feel, celebrate, and regenerate through my new pieces continuing the tradition of passing on knowledge to future generations.”
Ann Smith takes a traditional approach to saying something new. A member of the Wolf Clan, she’s been weaving wool, bark and spruce root in the custom of her Tlingit and Tutchone ancestors since 1990. The Ravenstail style in which she weaves goes back hundreds of years, but Smith says the work has much to say about what’s happening today too. Passing on that knowledge – both of the art form and of those stories – is why she does what she does.
The former chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation teaches workshops at the Adäka Cultural Festival and takes on apprentices when she can, showing them how to weave the tight, geometric Ravenstail designs that have come close to dying out in the past, but have survived because of weavers like Smith.
For Smith, the art form is a meditation. It stills her mind. It slows her down. It has to. The meticulous nature of the work means a bag or a robe can take anywhere from months to two years to complete.
That’s what makes it such an emotional experience when the work is put to use, as it was during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, when her son, Sean Smith, danced a robe she made for the Ottawa Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development office.
Smith’s work has appeared in exhibitions across the globe, in Canada, the United States and Europe, and was commissioned for inclusion in the collection of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
Recently short-listed for the Sobey Award, Krystle Silverfox is a member of Selkirk First Nation (Wolf Clan), and interdisciplinary visual artist. She currently lives and works on the territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (Dawson City, Yukon). Silverfox holds both a BFA in Visual Art (2015); a BA in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice from UBC (2013); also an MFA in Interdisciplinary studies from Simon Fraser University (2019). Her artistic practice explores different materials, methodologies, and symbols to create conceptual works. Krystle Silverfox is inspired by Indigenous feminism, trans-nationalism, de-colonialism, activism, and lived experience.
Not many youth spend their teen years studying Northwest coast carving, but not many youth have access to famous Haida artist, Bill Reid. Growing up in western Canada, Brian Walker did. From the age of 12 on, he spent two years learning from Reid. This developed in Walker, who is non-indigenous, a lifelong interest in First Nations art and culture that only intensified when he moved to the Yukon in 1969. Here, Walker furthered his arts education by studying with carvers such as Gitxsan jeweler Philip Janze and woodcarver Dempsey Bob.
Today, Walker works from his Long Lake studio, crafting copper into ceremonial pieces, commissions and collaborations with Yukon First Nations artists including Keith Wolfe Smarch, Calvin Morberg, Mark Porter and his son Justin Smith.
Walker favours traditional tools and techniques over modern methods and working with the ancient techniques of repousée and chasing. He has exhibited widely and taught carving with the Northern Cultural Expressions Society. He was chosen in 2014 to participate in the Adäka Festival’s Journey Project, which brought together senior carvers from B.C., Alaska, Yukon and New Zealand. Together, Walker and his wife, weaver Ann Smith, received the 2015 Cultural Steward Award from the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association.