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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

I was given a nicely finished apartment over the studio, and the various artists in attendance shared three larger cabins a short distance through the woods from the workspace. The participants started to trickle in the evening before day one. Some had come long distances from remote villages; others lived nearby. All were native artists from different tribal groups throughout the region. These included Tlingit, Tagish, Tahltan, Northern Tuchone, and Kaska, and their traditional lands stretched from coastal Alaska (Tlingit) into the remote northeast interior (Kaska). A complete tenderfoot to the region, I had never met any of them, but over the next week I would get to know them a bit better, learn some of their backgrounds, and marvel at the artistic talent and work ethic they all demonstrated. Once we got going, shared meals, and began to relax, the stories started flowing. The perception that I was dealing with some back-country carvers was dispelled quickly.

Among the students was Eugene Alfred, from the small village of Pelly Crossing, who had been to Europe on cultural exchanges, brought over by universities and museums, to give lectures about his heritage and demonstrations of his carving abilities. His wit was as sharp as his carving knife, and he kept everyone in stitches with his great one-liners. Vernon Asp had left his reserve and home, got a university education in eastern Canada, and returned as a high-school teacher. He was also a contemporary of many of the others in the group as a carver, having apprenticed as a teenager at
a specialized native-arts school named Ksan under a few of the older masters who are credited with saving and then reviving the art styles native to the west coast. He was sent by his principal to learn the basics of printmaking so the high school could set up a course.


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