For those who doubt that the words “Yukon” and “erotica” should be put in the same sentence, the MacBride Museum has uncinched the girdle on a new exhibit.
Running from August 22 to October 22 at Arts Underground, the aptly-named Yukon Erotica examines the peculiar early history of eros in a wild northern land saturated with dirty, unwashed miners — and the slightly cleaner women they lusted after.
For patrons on the search for titillating visual eros, Yukon Erotica comes out being distinctly G-rated. Hardcore Yukon “t-and-a” is nowhere to be found.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not sexy, said museum communications director Leighann Chalykoff.
“They’re very suggestive without baring it all,” said Chalykoff, gesturing to a wall displaying the MacBride Museum’s collection of century-old erotic postcards.
Many of the women stand with defiant expressions, posing triumphantly in billowing robes of cotton and wool.
Others pose in thick woolen bathing costumes, peeking coquettishly from beneath delicate lace shawls.
The postcards make the Sears catalogue look like Hustler magazine — but that’s not to suggest that the period itself was particularly tame.
“They’re not something that was really considered dirty at the time,” said Chalykoff.
“These were actually a tame version of what was actually available, which would have been more black market,” she said.
“They’re just like pin-up girls,” said Kiri Staples, the museum’s summer student.
The postcard collection is in good condition, but it’s certainly not pristine — many of the cards are dog-eared and worn about the edges.
“I would say they are ‘well-loved’ but it sounds kind of dirty,” said Chalykoff.
However, even while miners may have had tasteful, well-clothed women gracing the postcards in their tent, it was only a short journey to West Dawson, or “Lousetown,” for some real action.
In gold rush-era Dawson, an exciting evening of bloomer-gazing and drinking could always be followed up with a visit to the “soiled doves,” “working girls” and “the goddesses of liberty” on the other side of town.
“There’s a lot of euphemisms,” said Chalykoff.
One photo shows a group of prostitutes posing in their best clothes, holding liquor bottles, wine glasses and puppies.
Another photo featuring a group of women posing in front of a row of shacks is euphemistically labelled “a group of hard workers.”
Although prostitutes retained one of the few occupations in the region that involved lying down for a living, their hard life was easily on par with the miners whom they served, said Chalykoff.
“It wasn’t easy for an unmarried woman to make a living at that time, especially in a place like Dawson,” she said.
“And the miners were gross, they’d been out on the creeks for months without showers, without modern amenities, without shampoo — it was hard work,” said Chalykoff.
What stands out most prominently in the exhibit is how the realm of sexy has truly changed over the past century.
Any current edition of Maxim or Playboy will feature the typical “ideal” for modern women’s body type: slim with big breasts.
In the late 1800s, the name of the game was voluptuous.
The women are scantily clad for the time, but they look tough — one even brandishes a sword. Enormous bazooms are present, but not necessary. And there’s not an hourglass in sight.
“From the guys that I’ve talked to, they think these women are hot,” said Chalykoff.
“They’re definitely not a size 2” said Staples.
The exhibition is not all pictures, however. Visitors will also be able to come face to face with some tantalizing artifacts of the Yukon’s erotic past — a corset and a variety of other sexy Yukon undergarments.
Not surprisingly, the mere mention of a museum doing something erotic has aroused a relative storm of interest.