Artists Summary prepared by Jennifer Bowen Allen
Jean Taylor is Tlingit from the Dakht awedi Clan of Teslin Tlingit Nation. The village of Teslin, Yukon, is located 183 kilometers east of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway.
Jean captures moments of people interacting telling a human story that resonates with the North. The ideas found in Jean’s work explore the environment and human relationships and how these themes are related to Northern culture in general.
I met Jean in Inuvik at the Great Northern Arts Festival in the Northwest Territories where her work captured me: images of familiar people, similar lifestyle and landscapes. Her work captures special moments between family members, children at play, traditional dancers in ceremony and people on the land. Her work reflects the simplicity of life in the North. She creates iconic images we understand as Northerners.
Jean began painting in acrylic in 2000 following a lifetime of drawing in pencil. Her earliest training began at the Yukon’s Vocational and Technical school in Whitehorse. She received her formal training at the Grande Prairie’s Community Art Center in Alberta, and the Scottsdale Art School in Arizona.
Jean’s work has exhibited at the 2009 Biennale Chianciano, Italy, and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She has attended the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik, Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse and the Heard Museum Indian Art Festival in Phoenix, Arizona. She also has her work in the Yukon Government’s Permanent Art Collection.
Jean’s work can be found at the North End Gallery in Whitehorse, and at Steinbrueck Native Gallery in Seattle, Washington.
Heather Callaghan is Norwegian |Irish| Tlingit. She grew up between the Haines Road, on her Dad’s trapline — near the US border, 280 km southwest of Whitehorse — and also in Whitehorse where her and her siblings were able to go to school.
Heather is a homegrown artist in Whitehorse. She recently began her arts career at the Northern Cultural Expressions Society’s Carving program in 2007. Heather is a traditional mentee of a variety of master artists from the Pacific West Coast. She was mentored in: weaving with Della Cheney (Haida|Tlingit), Kumu Margaret Lovett (Hawaiian) Wayne Bell and Glakwa (Salish); metalwork and engraving with Robert Tait (Nisgaa); fashion design and mixed media with Una Ann Moyer (Tahltan|Tlingit); wood sculpture with Victor Reece (Tsimshian) Wayne Price (Tlingit); Northwest and Tlingit design with Calvin Morberg and William Callaghan.
Heather’s woven cedar hats are well known in the Tlingit communities. Her painted hats are most popular among the local dance troupes. Although Heather is successful in her weaving endeavors she likes to mix it up. As a young artist she is exploring a variety of mediums. In her artist studio, she is creating new works of urban fashion and growing collection upcycled accessories. Her artwork suggests two cultural identities, both as a contemporary feminist and a traditional artist. Her work acknowledges her foundation in traditional teachings, yet, reveals her values as a woman in the twenty-first century.
Heather has exhibited in Hokkaido, Japan with Ainu Indigenous People and the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver, BC. Heather is also a founding artist at the Adäka Cultural Festival, where she continues to showcase new works.
Mary Caesar is Kaska Dena of the Liard First Nations from Watson Lake, Yukon. The town of Watson Lake is 440 km southeast of Whitehorse, bordering British Columbia.
Mary is a visual artist and activist in her remote community of Upper Liard just outside of Watson Lake. When looking through her volumes of work, I see three main themes begin to surface. The first theme seen in Mary’s early work focuses on residential school, which she attended in Lower Post, BC. Mary published a book of art and poems, My Healing Journey to share her story and experiences in Residential School.
The second theme in her paintings looks at social issues in Mary’s community. Issues such as violence, abuse and alcoholism are a focus of work. She reveals the hurt and suffering that continues as a result of the Residential School experience. Images of alcoholism and abuse are all subjects of taboo in most small communities. She acknowledges that people may have a difficult time understanding and accepting her paintings because of the controversial issues and feelings they may bring up in individuals. She continues painting in the hopes that her artwork will contribute to the healing of her people. Mary hopes her people will become prosperous and healthy again through the healing process.
The third theme I see in Mary’s work shows hope. Images of children beading, women tanning hides, and community drumming balances her activism. Mary takes great pleasure returning to Frances Lake with the community at culture camp. It is a sober place where the community gathers to teach one another value and skills of their traditional ways.
Mary has exhibited her work locally and internationally. In 2010, she traveled to Germany with a delegation of Yukon First Nations artists touring their works in galleries and universities. In Whitehorse she has exhibited in Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre. Mary is open to exhibition proposals and available to travel with her work.
Dolores Scheffen is Tudakh from the Black Stone area on the Dempster Highway north Dawson City,Yukon Dawson City is 540 km north of Whitehorse.
Dolores is a Traditional artist, who incorporates works of both Tudakh and Hän people’s traditional designs. Dolores learned to bead when she was six, learning to make necklaces and small things with her mother, Fanny Dupont. Dolores’s mother and her grandmother Annie Henry inspired her to sew. One of Dolores’s first projects were moccasins, she made five for her younger brothers. Then she started making mitts and mukluks.
Dolores loves beadings; she beads every single day. It’s a form of therapy for her. When she beads, whatever is troubling her, she beads, she thinks her problems through and positive things come from her beading. Dolores has taught her kids not to touch her work. So she can put down her piece and pick it up at any time and get going again.
Dolores was invited to submit a doll to the Sewing our Traditions: Dolls of Canada’s North exhibit in 2009 for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The exhibit challenged Dolores to create a 3D sculpture piece wearing traditional Hän regalia. It was challenging for her because her family did not make dolls. The challenge was in the shape of the body; the regalia was easier. She is also one of the first women in her community to make detailed dolls replicating her First Nations traditional regalia.
Dolores enjoys finding simple solutions by being innovative in her materials. She is always looking for ways to improve upon traditional styles. Dolores’s friend, Glenda Bolt of the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, is always challenging Dolores to try new designs and ideas for beading. Dolores likes taking on these challenges because she enjoys focusing on beading projects.
Dolores is worried future generations are not taking the time to learn the traditional way of sewing and beading like she learned. The traditional way of learning to bead is to spend time with your elders, watching and listening, and showing them your work for advice and direction.
Sewing and family are Dolores life. Her priorities are taking care of her children and grandchildren.
You can find her work at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, at the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse, and for private sales, in person or through Facebook.
Amber Walker is Aztec, originally from California, and married into a Southern Tutchone Family.
Amber moved to Canada in 2007 and located herself in the Yukon to establish herself as a Visual Artist and to start her family. As a child her mother, who also worked in pen and pencil, inspired Amber to become an artist. Her mother is her greatest mentor in a style that has become well-known in the Yukon as Amber’s work. Amber remembers fondly watching her mother carefully work the pen to form lines, which created little forest animals in such great detail they almost came to life.
Amber began her unique style by doodling. She doodled on anything she could get her hands on: books, binders, and shoes. Later in life, she took a stab at painting in acrylics, but she never felt it was good enough. Her internal battles with the tools and process of working with acrylic were not allowing her to be creative. So she returned to her pen.
In 2012, Amber began showing her small pieces of her sharpie images. Her work begins with a flower that expands outwardly. When Amber sits down to work she herself sometimes does not know where apiece will go. The pen gives her the freedom of expression that flows with the ink. Her work is a mixture of ink and pencil and each piece has a unique spirit within talking through the materials.
A key message or focus in Amber’s work is the story of women, women of different circumstances on spiritual journeys. She looks for relationships between people and their environment. When she sits down to work her drawings are inspired by these concepts and experiences.
A repeating symbol in Amber’s work is the flower and bird. The flower is a perspective of how mass media perceives women as being fragile, delicate, and vulnerable. The little birds represent the truth of what she believes women represent and that is freedom, endurance, and nurture.
The Yukon Arts community is mentoring Amber as an emerging artist seeking to become a professional artist by challenging her to take her unique drawing style to the next level. As a member of Arts Underground, a member-based nonprofit society, she began taking workshops in portfolio presentation, copyright law, and installation.
Amber is currently taking a multimedia program to explore her interests in graphic design. Although she is training in a new medium she doubts the digital canvas will take her away from the organic feeling she gets from working with pen and pencil.
Arlene Ness is Giskaast of the Gitxsan Nation from Hazelton, B.C. Hazelton is over 1000 km south of Whitehorse.
Arlene is a visual artist who works in a variety of different mediums: wood and silver, paints in watercolour, acrylic, pen and ink blocks, and stained glass. The diversity in her mediums are a reflection of her training at the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art and Design, and the Freda Diesing School in British Columbia.
Arlene’s artistic career began at an early age and was influenced greatly by her family and her community. Northwest Coast Art surrounds Arlene, she saw it in jewelry her family wore and on the hand-carved masks and totem poles in her community. The distinct Northwest Coast Art was a part of the fabric of her life, but it wasn’t until she started learning the meanings and the stories behind the designs that it sparked her artistic passion. Story is a focus to all of Arlene’s work. Her traditional teachings have taught her how to take symbols and formline of Northwest Coast style to tell the story of her people.
In 2007, Arlene was invited to work on the Hazelton Northwest Community Totem. Led by Master Carver Earl Muldon, who targeted emerging carvers to train in Hazelton. A totem is a legal document asked for by a Clan who requests carvers to build their totem. Following Clan protocols the head carver identifies carvers to create the pole. A student carver, who listens closely and watches their environment carefully, will begin to see how the head carver and history keepers work together to create the totem pole. The students are exposed them to teachings that show an artist their role as witnesses in oral tradition. Witnessing the history keepers sharing their truths.
Arlene is grateful and honoured to mentor with Master Gitxsan Carver/Jeweler Earl Muldon. Mr. Muldon was a recipient of the Order of Canada, which he received for his Cultural Contribution to Canada. Earl taught Arlene how to draw out the design from the raw metal. The idea still amazes Arlene: to take a flat sheet of metal and transform it into shape that exposes a design, which tells her people’s story. In addition she also studied with the late Vernon Stephens an early teacher in Gitxsan carving and design. Arlene also studied with award-winning goldsmith, Linda Chow, of Calgary, Alberta. Linda introduced Arlene to basic metalwork techniques.
It is a great honour for Arlene to be invited to build a community pole. Working on a pole gives her an opportunity to learn from other clans and to hear new stories. Working on a pole takes Arlene out of her personal studio and puts her in direct contact with the community. Carvers working under a tent, chiseling and shaping the pole in public, invites visitors and locals alike to engage with the carvers and to share their stories and laughter. “You are never alone in the process. Sharing in other people’s history opens up the world around you.”
Blair Thorson is Cree | Irish from Alberta and Saskatchewan. As a surveyor Blair traveled extensively across Northern Canada, which inspired a lot of his work today. Blair paints primarily wildlife and cultural landscapes with watercolour on geographic maps.