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Under the Midnight Sun

(January 2006) posted on Mon Jan 09, 2006

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.

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By Andy MacDougall

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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