She painted the past

Amber Church's home art studio is small but flooded with natural light at midday. Colourful craft supplies and trinkets overflow from shelves.

Amber Church’s home art studio is small but flooded with natural light at midday. Colourful craft supplies and trinkets overflow from shelves.

Church’s latest piece, last in a series on Yukon history, takes up almost all the available floor space.

“That will be the biggest piece that I’ve ever done, mainly because four-foot-by-four-foot is the largest canvas you can fit in my car,” said Church. “There is no room for air, putting the canvas in.”

As she leans forward to brush green ink across a layer of varnished images from archival photographs, her dog Shiloh makes herself comfortable on the still-dry side of the painting.

“We do sometimes get puppy prints in the pieces,” said Church. “But then it just adds texture and looks kinda cool.”

Church’s newest show, Yukon Ho, opens at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery today.

It’s a celebration of Yukon history from a woman’s perspective.

“It’s sort of a right of passage for Yukon artists to eventually do a show about the Yukon,” said Church.

Church, 31, has been a Yukoner since moving here with her parents in high school. Although she has lived Outside for stretches of time, she was never able to leave the Yukon, she said.

She completed a degree in earth science at the University of Victoria, and did a masters in glaciology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

But she eventually came home both to the Yukon and to her passion for art.

“I think the experience of writing a thesis made me decide that that wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

Her newest show is about history, and indeed the art itself has roots.

A multimedia painting by Church about the Chilkoot Trail was selected as the cover for the current NorthwesTel phone book.

It shows a woman adorned with flowers and bright clothing climbing a mountain pass among dark silhouettes of men doing the same.

Letters along the trail spell out, “She forged her own path.”

Church fielded many inquiries about the painting, but the original now lives in NorthweTel’s permanent collection and limited edition prints were sold off for charity, she said.


So she was inspired to do more work in the same style about different aspects of Yukon history.

But the story of this exhibit goes back further still.

A few years ago, Church went with her mother to Manitoba to clean out her grandfather’s house. He had recently passed away.

Four generations had lived in that house, and they didn’t throw anything away, said Church.

Among the garbage she found a few boxes of precious heirlooms.

Old family photos, passports and documents were photocopied and used as the base layer for a painting she created about her own history, which was featured in her first Yukon art show a few years ago.

Now, she takes the same approach to tell the story of Yukon’s history.

Archival photographs form the base of almost all of the paintings in the show, and Church carefully selected them to fit the theme of the piece.

“The archives are great,” said Church. “Everyone should go to the archives. They will help you amazingly.

“You can say, ‘I just really need photos of the Chilkoot.’ Or ‘I really need to know about the paddlewheelers.’ And they have great search functions and they have staff that are really willing to help, and you learn a lot from it actually. It’s really fun.”

On top of the photographs she layers acrylic inks, collage cut-outs and found objects.

“I kind of scavenge stuff all over the place, so you’ll find stuff in these things from thrift stores, from my grandfather’s closet,” said Church. “People show up at my house sometimes and they’re like, ‘This looked cool, we thought you’d like it.’”

Each piece has a theme, like the dredge, the saloon, or bush pilots.

All feature the figure of a woman with no face and no name.

They include “some reference to an anonymous female, because a lot of the women in the photographs, they are anonymous,” said Church. “We don’t necessarily know a ton of details about them.”

Church’s style is reminiscent of Ted Harrison, with stylized, flat and colourful imagery.

She also includes words in the pieces.

The words are inspired by the theme of the piece and the characters within it.

“She faced the challenge.”

“She saw the world from a unique perspective.”

“She made her own buck.”

“I hope (the show) helps people celebrate where we’re from and, you know, smile and think about all this – we live in a pretty amazing place, we’re really quite spoiled, if we’re being honest,” said Church.

Yukon Ho runs Jan. 11 through Feb. 5 at Yukon Artists at Work, 120 Industrial Rd.

The opening is Friday, 5-8 p.m.

Also this evening, Leslie Leong opens her latest show, Blood-letting: a rite of purification, at Gallery 22 from 5-8 p.m.

Joyce Majiski will open two new shows at Arts Underground from 5-7 p.m.

The artists collectively suggest a gallery crawl between the openings. Food and drinks will be served.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at