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Artists bring new life to old photos

For artist Lisa Graziotto, Miss Gracie Robinson exemplifies what she calls, the Yukon's "feminine spirit." In Graziotto's painting, Robinson's rifle contrasts sharply with her thick wool coat.

For artist Lisa Graziotto, Miss Gracie Robinson exemplifies what she calls, the Yukon’s “feminine spirit.” In Graziotto’s painting, Robinson’s rifle contrasts sharply with her thick wool coat. The matching hat leaves her ears exposed to the winter cold.

Graziotto sees this as a picture of the industry and strength she loves about the people from the place she considers home.

“I love living somewhere where there’s a threat - not an imminent threat of someone breaking into my house with a gun - but (the threat where) I could die in a snowstorm or a Kodiak could come and get me. That kind of thing appeals to me.”

But she doesn’t live here. She’s never visited. She lists the territory’s attributes over Skype from her studio in Toronto.

“I think I was there in a past life, I really do.”

Her interest in the area began in childhood. While filling out maps of Canada in school in Guelph, Ont., she was fascinated that people could live so far away.

This summer, that fascination hangs on the walls of Bella Home Decor on Industrial Road. Graziotto has joined Yukon native Deanna Slonski to produce Old Faces, Old Places.

The Chocolate Claim hosted the show earlier in the summer; it opened in the coffee shop on July 4 before moving to its current location on Aug. 10. The pieces range in price from $200 to just over $300 and will be on display indefinitely.

The artists first met at Toronto’s One of a Kind show in 2004. The friendship was instant: “I think she’s my sister,” said Graziotto.

They have produced a show together each year for the past four years. Their previous endeavors focused on wildlife, fantasy animals and old trailers. Next summer, Graziotto plans to visit the Yukon. They hope to take the paintings on tour around the territory, she said.


For this show, they set about capturing the spirit of the Gold Rush, Graziotto with oil on canvas, Slonski with acrylic on wood, mainly driftwood. Old photographs were their inspiration.

Slonski used her personal knowledge of the Yukon when painting. She had had much of the wood for a long while, and it seemed to perfectly complement the subject matter. Some of the wood came from old buildings; one piece still has nails in it. “It really is representative of the old cabins,” she said.

She has personal connections with some of the other works. One is of a cabin she mined next to one summer. “It brings back old memories,” said Slonski.

Graziotto also relied on memories, but of a different sort. She gathered black-and-white photographs and coloured them the way she imagined they would look. For the most part, the people wear plain clothes, mostly brown or white. The dark green of the trees is subdued, as is the blue of the water.

“I think she got it bang on,” Slonski said of her friend’s paintings. “And the people who saw them were amazed that she’d never been here.”

Graziotto would look at a picture of a person and wonder about the moment captured in that image. Take Laundry Day, for example. In it, a man kneels on a mat, scrubbing his clothes on a washboard in a small bowl of soapy water. White clothes hang from the tent behind him. The simplicity appeals to Graziotto.

“He’s doing his laundry. He’s had a full day of work, or perhaps it’s his day off. I just like the fact in comparison to how we live today where we have vast amounts of stuff and big homes and whatnot, that this whole guy’s life is condensed in 20-by-20-feet, and he’s out there, he’s industrious, he’s hearty.”

That industry is the spirit of Canada, and especially the Yukon, said Graziotto. Some of her paintings are of prospectors, people who “built these towns out of nothing, did what they did, made their money and moved on.”

She speculates about what happened to them after they moved.

For example, the subject of Prospector Number 2 is a man who pans for gold, his legs sitting in water.

“I like to think that he actually found a lot of money and he came back to, we’ll say, we’ll put him in a nice place, we’ll put him in Guelph, and he found a lovely wife and he settled down,” Graziotto said, imagining his future. Perhaps he took the money he made from the gold and built a nice farm for himself, she said.

And did one of his offspring grow up to be fascinated with the Yukon?

Perhaps. “It would make a neat book,” the artist said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at