Acclaimed artist Heather Horton wears a ring on her thumb that’s so bent out of shape it’s hard to take off.
It didn’t come that way, but the imperfect loop is now symbolic of a life that led the painter to pick up and settle in Whitehorse last year.
A souvenir from the Rodin Museum in Paris, the ring is inscribed with “Une vie a plein bord” – a life lived to the brim.
“That is a wonderful mantra, that is an amazing mantra and I want to live my life according to this mantra,” Horton remembers thinking at the time.
Fast-forward a year and Horton is in Alaska near Denali National Park hanging on to the back of a sled being pulled by a snowmobile.
The force of the 30-kilometre ride was enough to bend her ring.
“I thought, ‘This ring is now perfect because it was always meant to be bent that way,’ she says, looking back. “To take another path in my life would have been an injustice to the message of the ring.
“Living up here and moving up here is a perfect example of what that ring is about.”
Horton fell in love with the North after visiting the Yukon for the first time in 2009.
“When I came here I’m like, ‘Well, this is it.’ So it’s taken that amount of time to get up here but I’m finally here.”
Last fall the stars aligned. Horton and her cat Sasha got in the car and began a seven-day, 5,400-km drive from southern Ontario.
“I had to do it in seven days because I wanted him to have a hotel room and took him into the hotel room every night. I paid extra to have him in there; it was quite an odyssey.”
Horton says she was attracted to Whitehorse right away.
“Before I even knew anyone in the community I was attracted to the beauty of it. The clean air, the wildlife, just the peace, it’s so antithetical to anything I’ve ever known.”
What she has known is a very successful art career.
Horton’s work can be found in private collections in Canada, the United States, Germany, New Zealand and England.
Her paintings are also now a part of the permanent art collection at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.
Lately Horton has become what could be called “Yukon famous.”
A hike up Montana Mountain south of Carcross led to the painting that is now the cover of this year’s phone book.
Horton called the prize “one of the highlights of my artistic career. I would say it’s only second to the very first solo opening I had in 2007.”
She’s 100 per cent genuine.
“It was having the mayor say lovely words, it was having Minister Nixon say lovely things… Most of all having friends there supporting. It was like this confluence of awesome.”
Horton paints based on multiple photos she’ll take of a subject. She doesn’t generally work in the open air and hasn’t worked with live models since college.
She says painting is fundamentally about curiosity.
That’s true if she’s painting a portrait, a landscape or, more recently, a local Whitehorse pet pig.
“At its most basic level I paint about things I want to know more about,” she says.
“Painting a thing, whether it be a person, a pig, a landscape, it’s a way to possess that thing, to know it, to learn about it, to spend time with it to examine it and then to let it go.”
The phone book cover, an oil-on-panel painting titled “Montana Mountain 1,” came from a 2009 hike up Montana Mountain.
It was the colours that were most inspiring, Horton says.
“It’s like the landscape was on fire.”
Horton is represented by downtown Toronto’s Abbozzo Gallery. She says the gallery has been very supportive of her drive to come north.
Now that she’s made it here, Horton says there’s no thought on how long she might stay.
“I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. That’s the criteria that I’m going by. I’ve worked so hard to get up here, I’m here now and I don’t know where else I would go. It’s just perfect.”
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