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Matechuk layers past on present to pioneer new art form

Ghostly stampeders march up the Chilkoot Pass towards a group of Mounties, who magically float in the air above the summit.

Ghostly stampeders march up the Chilkoot Pass towards a group of Mounties, who magically float in the air above the summit.

Meanwhile, at Five Finger Rapids, a phantom steamboat braves the turbulent Yukon River waters.

These are the scenes from local artist Judy Matechuk’s new exhibition Ghosts & Oldtimers hanging at the Arts Underground gallery in Whitehorse this month. It features 16 fabric landscapes — or fabricscapes — depicting Yukon terrain, local wildlife and dog teams in action.

But it doesn’t stop there; Matechuk lays etched glass over the fabricscapes to create her unique style.

And, in the process, she also layers time periods.

By placing images of historic figures and artifacts over contemporary landscapes, she evokes memories of what was, or might have been.

Matechuk does more than assemble landscapes from layers of vibrant fabric and embellish them with machine embroidery. She gives each scene an added dimension by etching foreground images to the underside of the glass used to frame the artwork.

She calls the etching process “sand brushing” – a more gentle and controlled version of sand blasting, which turns clear glass milky.

The sand-brushed images seem to float slightly above the fabric background, adding to the ghostly effect of their white translucence.

Matechuk has titled her show Ghosts & Old Timers.

The title refers both to the ghost-like character of her foreground imagery and to the identity of her sand-brushed subjects.

In one piece, Matechuk has cleverly conjured up the ghosts of George Black and friend George Potter who trundle along in a horseless carriage against the colourful backdrop of present-day Fish Lake.

The second passenger in the carriage might be Martha Louise Black.

Transportation history buffs will be especially delighted with Matechuk’s offerings.

Half the pieces in the show depict historic vehicles plying the rails, waterways and airways of the Yukon region.

The subject matter of Matechuk’s art combines two passions for the place she’s called home since 1968.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia, where there are hills but no mountains, Matechuk is awed and inspired by the grandeur of the territory’s rugged terrain.

She is also intrigued by the recentness of Yukon historical events such as the Gold Rush. She marvels that she knows someone who knew Klondike Kate.

Matechuk’s art career got a kick start three years ago when she made a fabricscape of her boss’ home at Lewes’ Lake as a gift. Her boss loved the piece and, encouraged, Matechuk made more.

Two years ago, she entered a fabric landscape in the Points of View exhibition hosted annually by the Yukon Art Society.

To her surprise and delight, her entry won the best of show award and tied for second place in the ballot for people’s choice. She hasn’t looked back since.

Her skills at fabric art had been honed since her teen years through hours of sewing and many workshops in fabric manipulation, dyeing, appliqué, snippet art, creative stitching, silk screening, drawing and colour theory.

The idea of superimposing sand-brushed images over her fabric art was triggered by an experiment that her artistic husband had on the go.

Once the owner of a sand-blasting business, her husband Norm used his equipment to etch a landscape into plate glass. It didn’t look like much until Matechuk laid the glass over some fabric. Then the image popped.

Matechuk hoped Norm would do more sand brushing, but soon learned to do it herself.

Initially, she created her sand-brushed images by cutting out stencils to resist the sharp sand, which, when blasted through a nozzle, turns clear glass white.

She cut each stencil painstakingly by hand with a Xacto knife and could only use each stencil once.

During a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Matechuk learned how to make “photo-resist” stencils. Now she can take a photograph, manipulate it on a computer, print a transparency, and then develop her stencil like film in a specialized light box.

Not only does the photo-resist technique speed up stencil making, it also allows for shading effects.

All of the sand-brushed images in Matechuk’s current show were made using the photo-resist method.

Matechuk also took advantage of a new sandblasting booth, which enables her to sand brush indoors and collect the expensive aluminum oxide sand in a hopper to reuse.

As far as Matechuk knows, she is the only artist who combines flatwork in fabric and sand brushing on glass.

When she showed photographs of her work to gallery owners in Santa Fe and Sedona, none of them had ever heard of the approach.

Better yet, each one she talked to showed interest in seeing more of her portfolio.

With her current show pulled together, Matechuk plans to shift gears and follow up with her contacts in New Mexico and Arizona.

A gallery owner in Sedona wants to see Southwest scenes, which for Matechuk will mean exploring new landscapes and historic themes.

Matechuk will also demonstrate her technique at the Arts in the Park, a summer-long festival in LePage Park, from July 10 to the 14. And she’ll be sand brushing at the Riverfront Arts Festival in Dawson City, August 18 and 19.

More of Matechuk’s work can be viewed on the internet at

Ghosts and Oldtimers opens Friday at 5 p.m. and will hang at Arts Underground until July 5.