Photo by Genesee Keevil
"Artist Kara Sievewright on the Chilkoot Trail"
Artist Kara Sievewright on the Chilkoot Trail.
Artists – and grizzlies – in residence on the gold-rush trail
By Genessee Keevil
Kara Sievewright expected solitude, gold-rush history and the odd grizzly during her two-week artist residency on the Chilkoot Trail. But she also encountered air-raid sirens, circus acrobats and a teeming social scene. “I thought I’d be inspired by nature and natural history,” says Sievewright, an illustrator based on Haida Gwaii, off the northern coast of British Columbia. “But I ended up spending a lot of time in camp sharing stories.”
Some 2,300 people hike the 53-kilometre trail each year, following the footsteps of the Klondike stampeders – gold-hungry men and women who hauled flour, axes, the family cat and even pianos over the pass from the port of Skagway, Alaska, to the now-abandoned town of Bennett, B.C., en route to the Yukon goldfields.
More than a century later, artists are making the same arduous trek thanks to an unusual collaboration between the Yukon Arts Centre, Parks Canada and the U.S. National Parks Service. Each summer, their joint residency program invites three artists – a Canadian, an American and someone from Yukon or Alaska – to work along the historic trail. “We try to get a rounded mix of artists with varied mediums,” says Mary Bradshaw, gallery director at the Yukon Art Centre. “But we also want to make sure the artists are capable of hiking the trail.”
Last August, Sievewright met vacationing Cirque du soleil acrobats hiking in space-age spandex, First Nation families that have trapped in the area for generations, and a militant diabetic dad whose penchant for wilderness adventures gone wrong made him a prime subject for her Chilkoot Comics, a graphic tale that explores myths and stories of the North. While Sievewright gathered yarns and dodged grizzlies that triggered air-raid sirens when they ambled into camp, fellow participants Cassandra Loomis, a Colorado watercolour artist, and Yukon painter Nicole Bauberger worked farther afield on more traditional landscapes stained by the odd splash of blackfly blood.
This summer, Winnipeg-born artist Andreas Rutkaukas and Montreal photographer Jessica Auer will collaborate on the trail, with Rutkaukas asking hikers to draw maps of their experiences while Auer takes their portraits using a gold-rush era camera. Self-described “adventure artist” Steve Snell also hopes to find inspiration interacting with hikers. “I want other people’s perspectives to shape my creative experience,” says Snell, a Nebraska video artist. He knows grizzlies may also influence his work and has mounted a miniature video camera on his walking stick, just in case. “I’m prepared to make the most of it visually,” he says. “But I’ll be scared.”
For more information on the Chilkoot Trail artist residency program, click here for the Yukon Arts Centre website.