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Created at the Canyon a diversity of artists

A woman views Martha Ritchie’s work in the Created at the Canyon art exhibit in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery. Photo by Mike Thomas.

By Amy Kenny

Pencils and paintbrushes travel more easily than video cameras and keyboards, but coordinators of this year’s Created at the Canyon wanted to see a broader exploration of the influence Miles Canyon can have on artists. 

“Not that there’s anything wrong with painting,” says Debborah Donnelly, outreach and communications coordinator with the Yukon Conservation Society, which facilitates Created at the Canyon. Donnelly laughs. “But we wanted to try to be more expansive, to include ceramics and sculpture and songwriting.” 

The resulting exhibition, which opened in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre on August 19, brings together painting, printmaking, video, ceramics and more. 

“We had some excellent applications and it was really hard to decide who was selected but we are really happy with who we got.”

That list includes ceramicist Leighann Chalykoff, musician Selina Heyligers-Hare, painter Jackie Irvine, printmaker Martha Ritchie, Sean Smith, who drummed, and Julia Cottle, who works with wool and cotton. 

A video featuring artist Sean Smith. Photo by Mike Thomas.

Donnelly says all six artists spent two (mostly sunny) early July days at Miles Canyon, working with their media of choice while chatting with visitors and people interested in their practices.

For Chalykoff, it was a unique opportunity to work in the nature that often characterizes her ceramics, which include mugs glazed with a finish that calls to mind the northern lights, bowls adorned with the silhouettes of swans, and her waterway-inspired River Series. 

“For me, it was amazing to be able to go out into nature to create,” she says. “There was also a learning curve to working with clay outside exposed to the elements. It’s unpredictable: it dries faster or slower depending on the moment. It cracks.”

Chalykoff says opportunities like Created at the Canyon help change the way you think about natural spaces as an artist, not just because of the work you find yourself creating, but because of the work your peers create. 

“All six artists approached the challenge with such different skill sets and different experiences,” she says. “It was so interesting to see what stood out to them.” 

Ritchie also found the opportunity to work alongside other artists to be a significant part of the process for her.

“I was influenced by a conversation I had with Sean Smith (who is Southern and Northern Tutchone, Tlingit and Tagish Quon) about the history of the canyon from the First Nations perspective,” says Ritchie. “I wanted my piece to reflect equally the different aspects of its history, so I chose to use three simple panels depicting different periods in time.” 

She says the visitors also influenced her process. She had assumed she would spend most of the two days sketching and carving linoleum. 

“I didn’t properly consider the amount of time I would spend talking about the entire printmaking process,” she says. 

As a result, Ritchie went home after day one and then came back on day two with a completed, pre-carved block, so she could demonstrate printmaking for those interested. 

And there were plenty who were. Donnelly says visitor turnout this year was around 300, which, in a year with no tourists, is huge, considering Created at the Canyon drew 450 in 2019. 

For anyone who missed out on the in-person creation, the finished pieces from all six artists are on display at YAC until September 30.