Local art with an international reach

The Art House Carcross gallery officially opened last Thursday at the Carcross Commons. Located across from the Matthew Watson General Store and the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, it’s not your typical gallery.

The Art House Carcross gallery officially opened last Thursday at the Carcross Commons.

Located across from the Matthew Watson General Store and the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, it’s not your typical gallery.

For one thing, it’s housed in a Yukon government building, so it can’t sell the art it showcases.

But that’s not a problem, since the gallery doesn’t pay rent. Staffing costs are being paid courtesy of a two-year pilot project from the Department of Economic Development.

And that’s a major advantage.

“We can present the best works, not just necessarily the ones that sell,” Southern Lakes Artist Collective (SLAC) co-founder Lawrie Crawford told the News last week.

“That’s what people get to experience: the quality.”

Crawford was looking for a place to display the seven-foot tall sculpture Icarus Descending when she realized the foyer of the building the gallery is now housed in had been empty for three years.

The foyer offers natural light through a skylight, and high ceilings – ideal for art, especially the Icarus piece.

Created by Suzanne Paleczny, the piece is a pure Yukon product.

Most of the body is made of driftwood from Tagish Lake. The face is made of paper put together by Helen O’Connor. Ken Thomas’s old canvases are used, as well as glass from Jeanine Baker.

But until recently, many tourists, especially Americans on cruise ships docking in Skagway for a day, didn’t get to experience that kind of artwork.

They would drive to Carcross and then turn around.

According to the Department of Tourism and Culture, there were a little under 36,000 visitors that went though the Carcross visitor information centre between May and June 2016.

Because of its high tourism numbers and small size, Carcross is the ideal place for a gallery.

And while it doesn’t sell art, it refers visitors to other galleries in Whitehorse and Dawson City and to individual artists’ websites.

The gallery is open to any Yukon artist, as long as they’re “export-ready” with a website and a way to sell their artwork, Crawford said.

The gallery has only been open for a little under a month but people are already amazed by it, she said, especially when they see Icarus.

“People are just awed by what’s going on there,” Crawford said. “Now that you can walk under him, he is probably the most photographed person in Carcross.”

The gallery is the type of initiative the government should be involved in, she said.

“It’s providing a portal for the visual artists who are probably among the poorest small business people in the territory,” she said.

“It’s giving them an opportunity to have international exposure.”

Baker echoed that sentiment, noting the territory has numerous grant and travel programs for artists.

“The Yukon is very generous with all kinds of programs,” she said. “We’ve all benefited from the Yukon government helping us.”

The territory has attracted artists but also creates them.

“The surroundings, the colour, the light is fantastic for painters and photographers,” Baker said.

“It does attract an adventurous soul.”

Many of the artists whose work is at the gallery already have a solid international reputation in the field, Crawford said.

Snow-carving artist Donald Watt has been to international competitions in Italy.

Helen O’Connor went to international paper-making conferences and teaches classes.

Suzanne Paleczny was a finalist of the Kingston Prize, a national portrait painting competition.

And when Crawford was completing her master of fine arts at the University of Alabama, her instructor had studied the work of Sandra Storey, who is also a member of SLAC.

“It’s local art that has an international reach,” Crawford said.

The gallery, she said, allows artists to showcase their work for a bigger market.

“So yeah, it’s huge.”

For more information visit arthousecarcross.com.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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