This summer, three artists will pack their paint brushes, sketchbooks and cameras alongside some bear spray to spend two weeks trekking back and forth on the Chilkoot Trail as part of an artist in residency outreach program that is designed to bring the trail’s history and beauty to new audiences near and far.
The goal of the program is to “inspire an audience’s curiosity about the Chilkoot Trail and national historical site as a place to visit,” and to “communicate the history of the trail as the First Nation has used it, or in those two years of the Klondike Gold Rush,” said Stella Patera, the public outreach officer for the Yukon field unit of Parks Canada.
The residency program is the product of a partnership between Parks Canada, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, The Yukon Arts Centre, the Skagway Arts Council and the Alaska Geographic Association.
Each year these groups join together to choose one Canadian artist, one American artist and one Alaskan/Yukon regional artist to go on the trail and bring back their experiences to share with larger audiences.
Patera said they received almost 100 applications for the sixth year of program before ultimately selecting Canadian photographer Dan Hudson, American sculptor Julie Zhu and Alaskan mixed-media artist Andrea Nelson.
For an artist to be selected to participate in the residency, a variety of factors are considered, including their ability to hike the trail and their backcountry experience, a portfolio, a submitted statement of interest and their ideas for post-residency outreach.
The various organizations provide a great deal of support to the artists on and off trail, such as a travel and lodging allowance before and after their trek, a stipend for art supplies and caches of food deposited at Sheep Camp and Lindeman Lake to last them throughout their stay on the trail.
Canadian artist Dan Hudson hiked the trail alongside his wife Enza Apa from July 6 through the 19 before sharing his experiences at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park’s visitor center on July 20.
He said they were attracted to the Chilkoot artist in residency program for it’s unique characteristics.
“For most artist residencies, you go to a specific place, and you’re there with a bunch of artists, and they just allow you time to focus on your artwork, not necessarily to be with the place,” Hudson said. “I thought this was kind of interesting because this residency is about a journey rather than about focusing on the project that you bring to the residency.”
Hudson said the extended stay on the trail allowed him to fully immerse himself in his surroundings as opposed to hiking the trail in the usual three to five days.
“As you’re hiking, you’re kind of looking at the ground a lot, just for your footing, so it’s not like you can be looking at the view the whole time. You kind of have to stop to look at the view,” Hudson said. “A lot of times, we would stop for two hours to make a drawing, and that’s the luxury of being there for two weeks.”
The nearly 24-hour daylight was a luxury that afforded him even more time to stop along the way.
“There’s no pressure to get to a camp before dark,” Hudson said. “So that was, compared to any hiking that I’ve done before, that just took so much pressure off of having to get somewhere.”
Hudson is an award-winning photojournalist with a resume that boasts more than 60 international magazine cover shots. He has also received seven internal awards for his visual art projects since dedicating himself full-time to the craft over a decade ago.
While a camera is probably Hudson’s most used tool, he is a multi-platform artist, working across the various mediums of photography, film, painting, sketching and sculpting.
Instead of deciding on a medium before tacking a project, Hudson said he likes to take a different approach.
“I consider myself to be a project-based artist, and by that I mean, I think of ideas and then I decide what medium to execute those ideas in,” Hudson said.
And he approached hiking the Chilkoot with that mindset.
“I decided that I wanted to come with no sort of preconceived idea whatsoever,” Hudson said. “I wanted the experience of the trail to sort of inspire and dictate what the art project at the end might be.”
Hudson estimates that he took thousands of photos during his time on the trail.
“I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to become an art work, but right now I’m thinking about a series of things that become indicative of the journey and the time it takes to complete the journey,” Hudson said.
Hudson also created a series of sketches and watercolors on the trail, only two of which are complete projects after his time on the trail.
“I have a whole bunch more, but most of them are half done because there would be intermittent rain, and I would just get out the water colors and get started, and then it would start to rain, and I would have to pack everything up really quickly,” Hudson said.
Hudson said there wasn’t one part of the trail he favored over the others.
“Going up to Sheep Camp, it’s sort of this lush rain forest, that’s a little bit foreign to the kind of places I’ve hiked before, so I really liked that, and going through the beaver ponds and all that,” he said. “And for some people it’s like ‘oh, you have to do this part to get to the good part,’ but really for me, the entire journey through the different climate and vegetation zones was really spectacular.”
Along the way, the artists are required to give a talk at Sheep Camp, on the U.S. side, and one at Lindeman Lake, on the Canadian side.
“Since I was a photojournalist, I talked about how to take photos in that kind of environment, since I specialize in adventure photography and travel, so I laid out about five or six straight forward tips on how to shoot your friends and family in a natural environment,” Hudson said.
After two weeks of being on the trail, Hudson said it was an incredible experience.
“What it’d say to other artists is that it’s absolutely worth applying for because it’s a fabulous program,” Hudson said.
Fellow artists in residence sculptor Zhu will share her Chilkoot-inspired art on July 30 and mixed-media artist Nelson will present her experiences on Aug. 7 at the NPS visitor center.