Eclectic mix added to Yukon’s art collection

Justin Smith, 27, was the freshest face in the crowd of artists whose works were added to the Yukon Permanent Collection yesterday. "I've been around artists all my life," says the young Kwanlin Dun member. No kidding.

Justin Smith, 27, was the freshest face in the crowd of artists whose works were added to the Yukon Permanent Collection yesterday.

“I’ve been around artists all my life,” says the young Kwanlin Dun member.

No kidding.

His mother, Ann Smith, is a renowned weaver, whose work has been displayed around the world and is already part of the permanent collection.

His father, Brian Walker, had a piece of his own added to the permanent collection this year: a copper vessel titled Directions.

The young Smith’s contribution is a paddle, carved from yellow cedar, named Between Two Worlds.

“I’d never made a paddle before,” he said. His preferred medium is pen and pencil.

“It turned out I liked it. It’s beautiful and it’s useful, too.”

The paddle blade is intricately carved. At its centre is a stylized hummingbird.

“I like the hummingbird because they have a strong heart,” said Smith. “They keep going. Every time I see one, I consider it a good sign.”

Beneath the hummingbird are swirling plants – forms inspired by the designs of Athabaskan beadwork.

Trade brought the Tlingit and Tutchone together, and the paddle was instrumental in this.

“That’s why I called it Between Two Worlds,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of division today.”

The paddle is one of eight pieces of art now on show inside the main foyer of the Public Administration Building.

Lillian Loponen’s Whiteout portrays a wind-whipped log cabin atop Keno Hill in the depths of winter. “A shiver went down my back,” remarked one onlooker as she took in the acrylic painting.

Loponen usually paints with watercolour to depict Yukon’s icefog. But heavier acrylic best suited her purposes here, allowing her to trace the contours of the whistling wind with brushstrokes, and to pile up paint to create the texture of heavy snow.

Marten Berkman’s photograph Pillar of Light captures the rugged beauty of Ivvavik National Park on Yukon’s North Slope. The shot was captured during a multi-day hike in late summer.

The weather was mostly miserable, but in late afternoon the clouds parted and golden sunlight struck a tall, craggy peak that stands in sharp contrast against the surrounding sloped hillsides.

“It was like seeing a castle in the distance,” said Berkman. “It just beckons.”

The most unusual piece of the bunch belongs to Jessica Vellenga, who moved to Whitehorse in 2008 from Hamilton with an interest in researching the lives of women during the Klondike Gold Rush.

She came across an article published in the Skagway News in 1987, which included a list of what women should pack for the grueling journey through the Chilkoot Pass. (Among the must-have items: three aprons.)

She then hit on the idea of hand-embroidering the list in red thread on an antique hoop skirt. It became her work, Klondike Bound, which serves to remind us that the women who climbed the golden stairs would have done so in a bulky skirt.

Wearing pants “just wouldn’t have been considered fitting then,” said Vellenga.

It’s part of a larger body of worked, called Unmentionables, that was on display last autumn at Arts Underground.

Other works added to the collection include Close to the Thirtymile, Janet Moore’s acrylic painting of the Yukon River; Stormy Wind Wiggles, an oil painting of Southern Lakes; and Fish, a collection of photographs depicting the chum catch at Dawson City by Evelyn Pollock.

These additions to the permanent collection “make us proud to call the Yukon home,” said Elaine Taylor, minister of Tourism and Culture.

The Yukon government spends $25,000 annually to purchase new work for the collection. Submissions are selected by the arms-length Friends of the Gallery Society. This year’s selections were chosen from more than 120 submissions.

The new art will be on show in the government’s main administration building until the spring.

The rest of the collection is spread through public areas of Yukon government buildings in Whitehorse, Faro, Dawson City and Mayo.

Contact John Thompson at

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