By Sylvie Painchaud
It was -47 degrees when Nathalie Parenteau first set foot in the Yukon. “I was 17 years old and a member of a volunteer group. I thought I was going to land in a polar station with nothing but construction trailers. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed to find myself in a well-organized city,” she says.
But her disappointment didn’t last long. Twenty-nine years later, she is still here. An artist to her core, Parenteau found something here that allowed her to express a talent she’s had since she was in kindergarten.
Originally from Montreal, Parenteau chose the Yukon as her home base even though she frequently left the territory. She studied biology in Ontario, but came back every summer to work at the Carcross Visitor Centre. Like a lot of youth, she travelled the world. As an adult, she gradually put down roots in the Yukon. Her circle of friends grew and her talent developed.
“We don’t really make choices in life. It’s just that certain paths become clearer,” she says, to explain her passion for the Yukon.
She began her career collaborating on various projects as an illustrator. She contributed to several publications, gave drawing classes and organized exhibitions. For the last 10 years, Shadow Lynx Artworks, the company she founded with her partner Peter von Gaza, allows her to practice her art full time. The sale of her limited edition paintings now earns her a decent income and her work is displayed in about 40 galleries in Canada and Alaska.
Parenteau’s influence is decidedly northern. References to animals in the boreal forests and the subarctic environment abound. But what grabs our attention is the unique way in which she shows us unusually intense characters.
People’s reactions to her work speak volumes. “People choose my paintings to symbolize milestones in their lives. Others want to reproduce them as tattoos,” she says, moved that people are so deeply touched by an activity that comes so naturally to her.
“Recently, a man bought my painting titled Solo because he was amazed at how closely the work reflected his own experience.” After paddling the Yukon River for several days, he arrived in Dawson completely exhausted – so much so that he hallucinated during the last kilometres of his trip. Imagine his surprise when he saw Solo, which depicts a faceless paddler in a canyon of strange rock faces under the watchful gaze of the moon.
If you visit Parenteau’s studio or a gallery where her paintings are on sale, be warned. It is liable to be an emotional experience. This is one of the magical things about the Yukon.
This article is excerpted from the third edition of a tourism brochure created by Association franco-yukonnaise. You can get a copy of the brochure (in French) at the Centre de la francophonie in Whitehorse or at the tourism information centre
in your community.