The prospect of teaching Native American artists how to screen print led Andy MacDougall to Canada's Yupon Territory, a place known for its hidden treasures. Find out how the workshop he conducted helped these craftsmen strike gold of their own.
The message came from the Society of Yukon Artists of Native Ancestry (SYANA), who asked if I'd be interested in putting on a week-long screen-printing course for ten of their best artists. All wood carvers, they would be a mix of some of the Yukon's most senior and talented First Nations artists and a selection of promising younger people from across the vast territory. The aim of the course would be to teach them how to transform their three-dimensional art into two dimensions and then to screen print limited-edition art prints and T-shirts and put images and drawings on other materials using their own original designs. The territorial government was very interested in helping the project and recognized it as a great opportunity to improve the native artists' marketability in galleries and gift shops throughout the region and stimulate the economy at the same time.
The government identified a growing need to provide unique, locally made products at reasonable prices for the escalating tourism trade. The demand was there, but the products weren't. With their one-off masks and totem carvings retailing for $3000-$10,000, these carvers had only limited exposure to a small group of purchasers, and it often took months to finish a piece and complete a sale. Art prints and other screen-printed products would provide less expensive items to a wider group of people.
Helping people learn to make stuff with screen printing? I could get behind that, and I accepted the invitation as quickly as I could hit the reply button. The reality hit me later, when I started thinking about the logistics of actually doing it. Just like the prospectors of old, I would need to haul in all of the equipment and supplies to the far north. SYANA and the native artists who would be taking part showed a lot of enthusiasm, but there wasn't much in the way of a screen-printing studio or graphics supplies.
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