Two unconventional artists find a match at Ted Harrison’s retreat

Last month, Dawson City-based artist Valerie Salez crammed a piece of wolf fur into a dainty teacup and thought about a Yukon elder.

Last month, Dawson City-based artist Valerie Salez crammed a piece of wolf fur into a dainty teacup and thought about a Yukon elder.

She contemplated the unconventional match for a while and soon the piece made sense to her — it told her a story.

For the past two years, Salez has worked as an archivist, categorizing and organizing J.J. van Bibber’s photo collection that spans an 80-year chunk of Yukon’s past and present.

She became intimate with the historic photos of van Bibber and his wife as children in the 1920s, and followed their family and work lives.

Fur trapping was a way of sustaining life for the van Bibber family, as it was for many First Nations families in the Yukon, she explained.

But in the 1950s, it became a way to acquire goods that aren’t very First Nations at all, like British-style teacups, said Salez.

“For me, that was Canada a long time ago — fur trading and the Queen of England.

“By matching those two things, it tells a story of what I’ve just experienced,” she said.

“I think that’s how art works, it’s a subconscious thing.”

Salez’s hairy tea service also offers up a new take on Meret Oppenheim’s legendary 1936 assemblage Le Déjeuner en Fourrure, or Fur Breakfast.

Except in Oppenheim’s piece, the fur was on the outside of the cup.

“Hers was about making something mundane and everyday be exotic,” said Selez.

“My goal was to take natural materials and manmade materials and combine them.”

Salez and fellow Yukon artist Jesse Mitchell have been holed up at the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat at Crag Lake since the beginning of November.

While Salez has been combining disparate materials to form unique new creations, Mitchell has been working on a drawing — a 4.5-metre-long drawing.

(Mitchell may be best remembered for Fridgehenge, an homage to Stonehenge constructed at the Dawson City dump. “That was on exhibit for a whole summer and it was something people went to the dump to see,” said Salez.)

On Sunday the pair will open the retreat to guests for an afternoon of talking, eating and maybe even a little bit of collage.

Salez and Mitchell grew up in the Yukon and met in Dawson City a few years ago.

Each was happy to find a like-minded artist in the other.

“We hit it off right away.

“Our visual styles aren’t the same, but our ideas and aesthetics are.”

And, despite the slew of amazing Yukon artists, few are doing unconventional art, said Salez.

The partners have been feeding off each other’s creative energies while working together at the retreat.

“He’ll throw something away and I’ll pick it up and add to it, or I’ll throw something away and he’ll say ‘Wait a minute, I want to draw on that,” said Salez.

“We’re just playing around that way.”

Next up for Salez is another collaborative retreat at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture with storyteller Ivan Coyote and musician Rae Spoon.

Sunday’s open house begins at 2 p.m. at the Crag Lake retreat, about 15 minutes from Carcross.

Bring food to share and a hefty dose of creativity.