Three Yukon artists are in the midst of a three-week residency, creating new pieces to be displayed for the community later this year.
The annual Chu Niikwän Artist Residency (CNAR) began July 5 and will continue until July 24.
Sheelah Tolton, Kim Roberts and Rebecca Manias were selected as the 2021 artists in residence.
Under the program, each selected artist is paid an honourarium of $2,500 and provided with one of three studio spaces, though they also have the option of working on their pieces remotely.
Over the course of the three weeks, Manias is working out of the Old Fire Hall, with Roberts at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre and Tolton at Arts Underground.
The residency is a partnership between the Yukon Arts Centre, Yukon Art Society and the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
It began in 2018 out of a desire by the groups to work together on an initiative incorporating the spaces they each have near the Yukon River (Chu Niikwän in Southern Tutchone).
The KDCC has its culture cabins along the river close to Front and Black Streets; the Yukon Arts Centre has the Old Fire Hall on Front Street near Main Street and the Yukon Art Society has Arts Underground on Main Street near Third Avenue.
In past years, the public has been able to take in talks and other events with the artists. This time around, organizers said in a July 7 statement, the public are invited to join the artists for both online and physically-distanced events that will be listed on the Arts Underground website.
The artists will also be participating in Wondercrawl, a multi-disciplinary event held along the Whitehorse waterfront in early September.
“The artists and curators will work together to create a mini-exhibit or demo of their work in progress for this unique nighttime event,” it’s noted on the website.
A larger exhibit showcasing the work produced by the three artists will be displayed at Arts Underground in November.
The exhibit will feature a variety of mediums, given each artist’s preferred method.
Tolton, who is also an architectural designer, creates in a range of mediums including ceramics, acrylics, pen and ink, graphite and more.
In a July 13 interview, Tolton said she applied to the residency because it provides a unique opportunity to work with others while also pursuing her own projects.
“That was really attractive to me,” she said.
Over the course of the residency, Tolton is focusing her efforts on building birdhouses, a concept that came to her as she was struggling to find housing in Whitehorse’s challenging market.
Building birdhouses gives her a lot of artistic freedom without the same constraints that come with the more standard architectural work she does full-time.
At the same time, she said she finds it interesting that birds don’t particularly care about the artistry and work that goes into building despite all the effort, Tolton said.
While Tolton works on building birdhouses, Roberts has incorporated one of the winged creatures into her first piece created during the residency.
Roberts works in stained glass and mosaics with her first piece at the KDCC being a stained glass scene of a duck on the water, framed in the middle of a snowshoe.
It was 10 years ago the Southern Lakes resident was first introduced to stained glass through a workshop. Since then Roberts has continued to grow her skills, developing her own style.
In February she left her day job with the Yukon government and has been focusing on her artwork since.
While she had planned to go back to school, she has decided to postpone that for now to continue the artwork full-time.
“It’s something I’ve never been able to do full-time,” she said in a July 13 interview.
Like Tolton, this residency particularly appealed to her as an opportunity to work on her own projects while collaborating with others in the arts community. It’s an experience that’s allowing her to draw on the experience of others and learn a little bit about what happens behind the scenes before work is showcased in an exhibit.
She’s particularly excited about the November exhibit, which will mark her first such show.
“There’s lots to learn,” she said.
Roberts is aiming to produce three pieces during the residency, framing her stained glass work in old snowshoes, reclaimed window frames and the like.
Just as there is much to learn about what goes into exhibits and things behind the scenes, Roberts is also continually learning new ways to improve her pieces. Framing a piece in snowshoes is a challenge, but one she enjoys.
“There’s lots of tweaking,” she said of the process.
With her first piece done, Roberts is at work planning out a Yukon scene featuring the mountains and water that are familiar to many. Along with the glass, the piece will incorporate slices of agate stone from the Rock Shop in Carcross.
“I enjoy using different things,” she said.
Meanwhile, Manias’ is using the residency near the river as an opportunity to explore ideas and pieces focused on fluidity in many aspects of life.
“There’s a lot of freedom, which is nice,” they said of the residency.
Manias also noted the benefits of being able to work with other artists as well as the curators – Heather LeDuc and Teresa Vancer Meer-Chassé – in a unique residency. Having worked as a curator during the first Chu Niikwän residency, Manias said it’s a good experience to be on the artist’s side of things as well.
It has also given them an opportunity to work out of a new space, rather than the small space at home that serves as their studio. While acknowledging they are fortunate they have room in their home to work on their art, Manias said being in a new space has helped in coming up with new ideas even when she’s not in the space.
Over the course of the residency they anticipates producing about five pieces to showcase in November with a piece that may incorporate the wind outside for September’s Wondercrawl.
While the artists will leave their spaces July 24, work will continue between the artists and curators for September’s Wondercrawl and November’s exhibit.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org