Flea market find inspires new First Nations art exhibition in Yukon – North

Flea market find inspires new First Nations art exhibition in Yukon – North

Krista Reid, culture and heritage co-ordinator at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC) in Whitehorse, got the call last summer. Her friend had been to a flea market in Edmonton, where an antique dealer was selling something very special.

“She said, ‘there’s a Kitty Smith carving there.’ I said, ‘what!?'” Reid recalled. “And so we had to have it.”

Reid secured permission from the KDCC to purchase the $1,200 poplar carving, then had someone pick it up while they happened to be in Edmonton, and bring it to Yukon.

The poplar carving stands about 45 centimetres high. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

The undated carving, called The Wolf Man, prompted Reid to curate a new exhibition of Smith’s pioneering work. The exhibition opened at the KDCC on Friday.

“I was just so inspired by her,” Reid said. “I just wanted to be able to bring life to her story, somewhat.”

Smith was born in about 1890 to a Tlingit father and Tagish mother. She began carving in the 1930s, sometimes in collaboration with her husband, Chief Billy Smith.

“This was a Yukon commodity — people came from all over the world, and Kitty sold these,” Reid said.

“At that time, women weren’t carving. But she was providing for her family this way, she was sharing the culture with strangers, she was educating people on Northern First Nations communities — and in the 30s!”

“She’s a revolutionary woman of her time, and still is someone to aspire to today,” Reid said.

‘These stories are true’

Reid says when The Wolf Man was first delivered to the KDCC, she was so entranced by it that she didn’t pick it up for a while. When she finally did, she found a hand-printed label affixed to the back,…

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