I arrived armed with a backpack and a suitcase stuffed full with art supplies, winter clothing and a head full of open and unknown expectations. I settled into the upstairs studio of the Klondike Institute for Arts and Culture's (KIAC) Macaulay house, Artist's Residence, over looking Princess Street. This studio served as my home base for my time in Dawson, but I soon realized that it would be difficult to find time for undivided studio time in such a small but bustling town.
My first full day in Dawson I bought a ticket to see Fred Eaglesmith at the intimate KIAC Ballroom. I throughly enjoyed the concert and have been listening to his tunes ever since. They bring a sentimentality to each listened moment and continue to leave me longing for Dawson.
I arrived in Dawson 2 days before the ice broke on the Yukon River. To outsiders this may seem like a small insignificant event but to the people of Dawson, this is what they have been eagerly awaiting during the dark of winter months. The 'break up' as locals affectionately call it, is met with eager anticipation as it signifies the transition from the depths of the Winter darkness to Spring and quickly to Summer. It didn't take more than one outing to catch the buzz that this event brings and before I knew it the tripod marker injected through the ice was drifting down river, sounding the alarm, and quite literally sending the citizens of Dawson running for the river to witness the event.
Much of my time in Dawson was spent wandering. Like many artists, the act of walking or hiking provides an extreme awareness and openness of thought that proves fruitful upon return to the studio. With my new friend Karen McKay and the company of others I hiked all over the hills that encompass Dawson. Karen and I both share an innate curiosity and would often find ourselves chuckling while bushwhacking through the hillsides of Dawson.
These hikes provided me with a deeper understanding of the histories of Dawson and how my own temporariness of presence echoes those of the gold miners who came before us. Our hikes brought us to the Moosehide slide, the Midnight Dome, Lousetown, the Paddlewheeler graveyard in West Dawson and back again to the dirt roads of Dawson.
My reason for being invited to the residency program was to complete a site-specific work about the architecture of Dawson. Working with David and Elaine Rohatensky at Parks Canada and the helping hands of many friends I developed a project I would later title False Fronts, False Frontiers. Still a work in progress, this project is a print of West’s Boiler Shop located in the heart of Dawson.
In 1896, gold was found in the hills of the Yukon signifying the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, which attracted over 30,000 perspective miners up and over the daunting Chilkoot Pass. Anticipating a temporary presence in Dawson City, miners and businessmen quickly constructed “boomtown” buildings from the limited resources that were available. These structures where never intended to have longevity. Today a visitor to this remote location would find structures in a distinct state of ageing. Some of which have a characteristic lean, thanks to the layer of permafrost underneath the city, manipulating the built structures above.
False Fronts, False Frontier, refers to the exaggerated false front facades, a common architectural characteristic of many buildings in this historic Northern city. It also references the daunting struggle of the thousands of miners who rushed to the Klondike in the hopes of striking it rich in the Gold Fields, but whose dreams where not entirely realized. Many left as poor as they came.To create this print, fabric was draped across the façade of the building, while an inked roller was used to record the textures of the wood, window frames, doors, etc. This printing approach allows for an exact scale replica of the building, emphasizing the worn textures intrinsic to this structure.
It would seem neglectful in this reflection to omit the significant amount of time spent at the pub while in Dawson. It's rather heartwarming to have a neighbourhood pub like Bombay Peggy's or the Pit, where you can roll in as a visitor to a town and within a few days experience your first bell initiated round purchased by a friend and have the bartenders know your name and your drink preferences by heart. Yukon Gold beer proved to be a faithful friend, but the real treat was my companions; fellow artist-in-residence, Andreas Horvath, Burton house writer-in-residence, Tim Falconer, hiker extraordinaire Karen McKay, the Dawson City welcome wagon, Laurie and Dan Sokolowski and the friendly faces of Gaby Sgaga and Meg Noila.
Dawson, I miss your 4 digit dialing, your fast moving clouds, immense hours of daylight, your hardy dogs, talkative ravens, welcoming faces and your daily surprises. Although I spent but a short month in your city limits your impact on me and my art presence is monumental and lasting.
I left Dawson with a list of things left unachieved. I never drank the Sourtoe cocktail. I never hiked to Moosehide and I never panned for Gold in Bonanza creek, among many other things. This, however was a deliberate ploy as my Mother always reminds me that it important to have reasons to go back to a place traveled. I couldn't leave Dawson knowing I'd done it all, because I knew than that I had to return.