Rebekah Miller works on “Birch Corset 2”, the piece that was selected as a finalist for the Salt Spring Island National Art Prize. (Submitted)

Rebekah Miller works on “Birch Corset 2”, the piece that was selected as a finalist for the Salt Spring Island National Art Prize. (Submitted)

Yukon artist up for national prize

Rebekah Miller says birch bark corset embodies nature in female form and attempts to enter memory.

Artwork dealing in the embodiment of places, memories and the natural world has brought a chance for at Yukon artist to show her work outside the territory.

Rebekah Miller’s work entitled Birch Corset 2 is one of the pieces from across Canada selected to be shown on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia and in the running for the 2021/22 Salt Spring National Art Prize (SSNAP).

The work that was selected for the exhibition, which runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 23, is a representation of a lady’s corset mostly created from natural materials found near Miller’s Dawson City area homestead.

Most of the piece is made of birch bark but sinew and porcupine quills are also incorporated. While the materials used in the project are drawn from the off-grid surroundings of her current home, Miller said the decision to make a corset is partially drawn from her experience with the bright lights and gold-rush era costumes of Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall in Dawson City.

Miller said previous art projects gave her an interest in exploring the idea of memory; she described the intent of the birch corset as embodying nature in a female form and attempting to enter into a memory.

In a previous work she described as a “ghost house”, Miller tried to capture the memory of the small prairie shack on her grandparents’ Alberta farm. A printmaker by trade, Miller said she transferred the texture of the shack’s wood onto transluscent fabric to form the walls of the ghost house. She described the representation as a way of recapturing a place she had lost and left.

Miller said another series of her work that contributed to the methods and ideas behind the birch corset were representations of trees made mostly from a thin layer of birch bark. She said she reconstructed the tree using zippers fixed to the bark and added embellishment in the form of stitching and lace.

She said these two works were important progress toward the corset selected for the Salt Spring Island show.

In future projects, Miller said she wants to continue with exploration of the ideas she was working with on the birch corsets. She said she is working on incorporating a greater variety of natural materials. She expressed particular interest in working with porcupine quills and the flaky and ephemeral outer skin of a wasp’s nest.

Miller’s work is one of 52 pieces up for consideration for the Salt Spring National Art Prize. Artists with work displayed at the gala awards event located at Mahon Hall are eligible for 10 awards, six selected by a jury and another four by public vote. The show is held every two years and its top prize, called the Joan McConnell Award, carries $15,000 and a Salt Spring Island artist residency for the winner.

While she isn’t overly concerned with the prize itself, Miller said she is glad to be selected and to have her work on display outside the Yukon.

Miller said she is grateful for the support for her work from the Yukon Government’s Advanced Artist Award Program. The program offers artists grants of up to $10,000 to help further their craft. She said the Salt Spring Island show will be the initial public showing of the work that she received grant funding for.

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