Blog / Archives / March 2014

Meet the artist: Helen O’Connor

Meet the artist: Helen O’Connor

Helen O’Connor is a Yukon visual artist who makes paper by hand using oriental and local fibres to create sculpture, assemblages and installation. Her works express a reverence to nature and are influenced by the unique atmosphere of the north. She took the time to talk to us specifically about this distinctive practice, as well as future papermaking projects.

O’Connor’s exhibition ‘Salutation’ is currently showing in the Yukon Art Centre Public Art Gallery until May 10th.

What is unique about your process?

Art is a means of expression. The medium is the vehicle used to express. This is why my chosen medium of hand papermaking is so important to me. It is an age old process that connects me physically to the past and to the earth. After much repetition a physical process such as papermaking becomes a means of spiritual connection. Each step of the process contains significance that goes into the ultimate meaning of the piece. It is a slow meditative process that gives the mind space for creative thought and connection.

The sculptural installation work I have created for this show is made from handmade paper. The process of papermaking connects me physically to my work and creates a beautiful product which is far superior in aesthetics and quality than factory produced paper. I believe the closer the medium is to its primary source (the earth) the more radiating beauty and energy it emits.

The paper created for "Singing Stones" is made from oriental fibres called Gampi and Kozo and local willow. The oriental plants are small bush-like trees that regenerate each season after harvest (quite like our local willow bushes). The fibre is collected from the bast fibre (the inner bark) which is stripped from its branches. It must be soaked for 24 hours and then cooked for several hours with a mild caustic (soda ash). It is then rinsed and beaten with hardwood mallets on a large rock or wooden surface. This can be a social rhythmic event with many participants.

The resulting pulp is added to a vat of water. It retains long fibres which makes for a fine strong paper (see paper used as projection screen in "Release"). Yukon willow paper is very coarse and a reddish colour. See if you can find it among the "Singing Stone" rock sculptures.

The paper sheets formed on a screen are then "couched" onto a board to dry or onto the rocks to cast.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a multi disciplinary collaboration with filmmaker Marten Berkman (see film loop installation "Release" in YAC gallery), dancer Monique Romeiko, and musician Jordie Walker for upcoming show in October 2014. I will be creating more cast rock sculptures this time using recycled paper grocery bags (more utilitarian for dramatic stage use with dance) and a super large sheet of flax handmade paper for dancing on and under. Flax produces a rattly crisp paper which will add some interesting sound qualities to the performance. The group will be rehearsing in a weekend residency at the Old Firehall, Whitehorse, April 5 and 6th. The public is welcome to attend during development. Monique and I collaborated on an improvised dance performance for the opening of Yukon Arts Centre exhibition, Salutation, on March 6.

This summer 2014 I look forward to attending an artist residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan, Ireland. My project there is to create a series of sculptural artist books that will include elements of handmade paper, collage, photo transfer or photo etching related to exploration of personal connection to Ireland and ancient culture. Based on visits to ancient stone/bog sites and interaction with contemporary community.

My studio is located in the Rosati Centre, 3 Glacier Road, Macrae Subdivision, Whitehorse. I have a Mark Lander Hollander beater called a "Critter", an oriental paper stamper, as well as some interesting antique fibre processing equipment. Call ahead for studio visit, 334-4292 to experience the magical process of papermaking.

Image shows artist hand beating willow bark for installation at the Riverside Arts Festival, 2009 in Dawson City. Photo credit: Chris Clarke.

Meet the artist: Oh Susanna

Meet the artist: Oh Susanna

Alt-country folk songster, Oh Susanna, aka Suzanne Ungerleider, is renowned for her stirring vocals and poetic narratives, which she weaves seamlessly through her latest, and fifth, full-length album: ‘Soon the Birds’. Joining Kim Beggs and Justin Rutledge, she will perform her lingering odes as one third of the ‘Dark Strangers’ on Thursday, April 24th at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets $27.

How would you describe your music (in five words or less)?

Because I loath to answer this question I am asking my husband Cam to do it for me. He says, whilst stirring hollandaise sauce for our Sunday brunch: "Achingly beautiful and haunting." He's a pretty excellent husband I must say.

What is the best thing about your being a musician?

I think the best thing is the feeling I get after singing.  I can worry and question a lot but if I just sing for a while it silences those thoughts and can make me at peace.

What would you do if you were not a musician?

Without any practical considerations of whether I have the talent or training, I would be a famous Oscar-winning director with the sideline of a practice in psychotherapy.

What is the most memorable response you’ve ever experienced to your music/songs?

One of the most meaningful responses I've ever experienced is when I learned that a person had listened to my music to help mourn the death of his wife. 

Speaking of 'Dark Strangers', what do you appreciate most in your friends?

Their positivity, love, loyalty and sense of humour.

For more information about the artist and her music, please visit her website or Facebook page


Why does the Yukon Arts Centre exist?

Why does the Yukon Arts Centre exist?

In November 2013, we asked the community to share their thoughts and experiences of the Yukon Arts Centre. With almost 300 participants from across Yukon and beyond, we heard stories about favourite exhibitions, friendly volunteers, uplifting Available Light Cinema films, and concerts like Buffy Sainte-Marie, David Myles and Blue Rodeo. But above all, we heard about memories of times spent with friends and family.

We also heard concerns and suggestions about a number of important issues, including better physical access for patrons with reduced mobility, improving the reach of YAC programming outside of Whitehorse, and even the temperature of the theatre. Our board and staff are working towards addressing all of these issues. Projects we are working on right now include increasing French language content on our website and throughout the facility, and creating technical training opportunities for volunteers backstage.

In December, we took these responses – both positive and negative – to a Board and Staff strategic planning session. Inspired by what we heard, we spent four days working with the renowned international arts consultant Jerry Yoshitomi to refresh our vision, our goals and our souls. Out of these discussions, we developed the following ENDS STATEMENTS. Ends that challenge YAC board, staff, and community partners to make a difference in Yukon.

The Yukon Arts Centre exists to provide access to the arts for all people in the Yukon so that:

1. All have experiences that awaken, educate, challenge and transform in welcoming venues and settings
2. All have meaningful and inclusive dialogue among people of diverse cultures and backgrounds
3. There is cultural understanding, development, promotion and preservation.
4. All engage our creative and innovative spirits
5. There is expression of artistic potential for artists of all ages (inclusively defined)
6. There is the development and sustenance of a vibrant cultural and creative sector (including artists, organizations, small commercial businesses)

Ultimately, it’s not about just about the shows. YAC events are welcoming spaces for participation and conversation.

So please get involved! We always welcome your feedback, and we’d love to hear directly from you. For questions or comments, please contact:

Al Cushing, CEO
(867) 667-8577

Katie Newman, Marketing & Development
(867) 393-7108

Take a look at the graphs below for a big picture look at the responses to the survey.


Call for Original Artworks by Local Artist Jim Robb for Upcoming Exhibition

Call for Original Artworks by Local Artist Jim Robb for Upcoming Exhibition

The Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of local artist Jim Robb from May 22 - August 23, 2014. 

Jim Robb is known for his iconic illustrations of Yukon life presented in a variety of media, from his early drawings of Whitehorse, to rare original pastel drawings on moose hide.  These images are popular throughout the territory, and can often be seen in the homes and businesses of Yukoners.

Curator Jessica Vellenga has been working closely with Mr. Robb to plan this retrospective, and now they are seeking help from the public.  The gallery is looking for original Jim Robb artworks, especially early (1960-1980s), rare or unique pieces, that may be suitable to lend for display during this exhibition.   

Artwork will need to be available for loan from May 10 – August 30, 2014.  All loaned artwork will be safely and securely displayed and insured by the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery for the duration of the exhibit. 

If you have a Jim Robb original that you think would be suited for display, please contact the exhibition’s curator, Jessica Vellenga, at (867) 393-7109 or

Meet the artist: Michele Karch-Ackerman - Part 2

Meet the artist: Michele Karch-Ackerman - Part 2

YAC continues our conversation with an artist who 'sews for ghost', discussing Michele Karch-Ackerman's inspirations and aspirations. 

Committed to creating “healing work through the energy of [her] stitches”, Karch-Ackerman’s solo exhibition 'Foundling' is a gift of acknowledgement and prayer for unwed mothers who were forced to give up their infants between the 1920s to 1960s in homes and institutions across Canada. 

An integral part of this exhibition involves the performance of tea ceremonies, conducted in silent memoriam to these young mothers and lost infants. These domestic rituals are reserved for five participants at a time, and will take place every Friday at 12:15 p.m. beginning March 28th until May 9th (with exception to Good Friday, April 18th). Each ceremony will last roughly fifteen minutes. If you are interested in participating in a tea ceremony, please contact Participation will be determined on a first come first serve basis. Evening ceremonies will be organized if there is clear public interest. 

Foundling is currently showing in the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery until May 10th, 2014. 


Who are your favourite artists?

My favourite artists are many and varied.  I consider myself a weird hybrid of Joseph Beuys and Maud Lewis.  I love everyone from Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski to Betty Goodwin and William Kurelek...  Let's throw in Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt and Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly and add a splash of Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh.  Season with Lynda Barry and Roz Chast and top with a sprinkle of Paul Cezanne and Frida Kahlo.  Oh and Modigliani!  And Paul Klee!  Oops, forgot Gustav Klimt.  Oh, and Egon Schiele.  Can't forget him.  Oh and then there is the circular water lilies by Claude Monet.  Now, that's a masterpiece...

What is your dream project?

I am very lucky because my dream projects are always the ones that I am working on.  At that given time.  I spend my life dreaming, really.  And then stitch those dreams into exhibitions.  In a couple of years I will have had forty solo shows in public galleries across Canada.  That's a lot of different galleries...different spaces...different communities.  Each one unique and wonderful in it's own way.  And always a delight.   One gallery I would love to be involved with is the Bronte house in England.  My current project would fit perfectly there because it's inspired by tuberculosis and Emily died of it.  But it involves so many little holes to hang hundreds of vintage rose plates that it would destroy the house!  Hmm...maybe it's worth proposing anyway...

What are you working on now?

The project I am working on now is called 'Little Flower Sanatorium' and it's inspired initially by tuberculosis sanatoriums but has broadened to provide healing and solace for those who have experienced life threatening illness.  It involves my hand stitching a hospital 'curtain' or room from hundreds of vintage handkerchiefs edged in tatting (which was used as occupational therapy for tuberculosis patients).  The show was inspired by my favourite saint 'St. Therese of the Little Flower'  (who died of tuberculosis).  Her saintly image is roses. She wrote ' I will send a shower of roses' in her memoir 'Story of a Soul'.  I've collected hundreds and hundreds of vintage plates with rose patterns (eating well was part of the cure for tuberculosis).  I plan to count every blossom and offer each blossom as a blessing to those in need.   At the moment I'm stitching the 'requirement list' for those who entered tuberculosis sanatoriums.  It involves three sets of pajamas, sweaters, socks and mittens.  Those sanatoriums were cold!

What inspired you to become an artist?

I think I was always an artist.  It seems very natural to me to have become one.  I come from a long line of artsy folk.  My grandmother (the one who inspired the Foundling show) won the watercolour prize at the Beaux Arts in Montreal, my grandfather was an architect.  My father made Jackson Pollock style amateur paintings in the backyard in the sixties and my mother dabbled in all sorts of painting and sculpting.  My favourite thing to do as a child was to read books like Little House on the Prairie and A Little Princess or look at my mother's art books.  It all came very naturally.  I do remember once when I was seventeen visiting the stone farmhouse of a family friend.  They took us across the road to a wonderful log cabin that was part of a studio tour.  In it lived two painters and their children.  They had their paintings displayed on the walls of the living room (which had been turned into a gallery).  I remember quietly saying to myself 'This is what I want'.  Now I live in the country in a board and batten house with a studio on the main floor.  I have two children whom I homeschooled and I make art for a living.  I think seeing the blueprint of that creative family helped me to create my own blueprint. 

To contact the artist, please refer to her Facebook page