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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 organizers had found a great location. Sundog Retreat, about 30 miles outside the capital city of Whitehorse, was situated on 160 wooded acres surrounded by snowcapped mountains. It overlooked the Yukon River near the south end of Lake Laberge, where a certain Mr. McGee from Plumtree, Tennessee met his fate along the famous Klondike trail back in 1898. The place turned out to have first-class accommodations, a large work area, and a gourmet cook who stuffed us morning, noon, and night. But the area where I'd be holding class wasn't much of a screen-printing shop. Basically, it contained nothing but a laundry sink and some tables.

Sundog Retreat was about 1300 miles from the nearest screen-printing supplier. If we ended up being successful with the workshop, and the participants wanted to continue with screen printing, they would face the same problems. Most lived in small, remote villages, some without power. So whatever solutions we devised for the workshop, they would become solutions for the participants if they set up for printing in their home studios.

Luckily, there have been some improvements to the transportation systems serving the North since the days of the gold rush. Supplies and equipment used to go via steamer out of San Francisco or Seattle to Skagway, Alaska, then over the historic White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railway, then on backpack, dogsled, or paddle wheeler on the river system. Today, goods move more quickly on trucks and highways. We just had to fit everything we needed into a big box.

I started by designing and building two tabletop vacuum print tables, one jig table for three-dimensional objects, and a simple, one-color T-shirt press. Each participant also got a set of plans for constructing these tables from easily found materials. Our hosts volunteered the use of a vacuum cleaner to provide suction for the tables. Working with Willox Graphics, a supplier in Vancouver, we also got water-resistant photoemulsion, a scoop coater, squeegees, inks, properly stretched screens, reclaiming materials, Rubylith, tech and opaquing pens, and an X-Acto knife for each participant. I gathered paper and print samples at my end, plus 10 instruction manuals. Everything was strapped to a pallet and shipped by truck two weeks before my arrival.


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