Carving Gold Rush history into woodblock prints

Sara Tabbert has undertaken three artist residencies in national parks. This August and September, she will undertake her fourth, as part of the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency Program.

“I’ve had my eye on it for a while,” said Tabbert of the residency program. “I know a few other artists who have had the opportunity to participate and they all had positive things to say about the experience. I have lived in Alaska for most of my life, but have not hiked the Chilkoot and, in some ways, I’m glad that I haven’t. It will be fun to see it with fresh eyes. I’m also curious about how a ‘mobile residency’ will work for me. I have not yet done one when I am on the move a lot of the time. Being in a new place always makes you shake things up a bit.”

The woodblock printer from Fairbanks has been busy with a number of projects lately, including a large commission for the new engineering building on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks and an exhibition at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau this coming February. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had time to give some thought to what her Chilkoot Trail residency will involve though. Tabbert is trying to balance a plan for the residency with being open to what happens along the way.

“I look forward to seeing what is left along the trail, how our human presence is (or is not) being incorporated back into the land and making sketches about what I find that can later be turned into woodcut prints. There is something really interesting to me about the visual absurdity of the Victorian decor and dress that came north with the Gold Rush and the contrast between that and where these folks actually found themselves. There’s a lot to look at and think about.”

The 2019 Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency will see three artists hike the Chilkoot Trail. Each artist will cover the distance over a two-week period, allowing them time to deeply explore the landscape and artifacts, and to interact with others making the journey. Tabbert is looking forward to the challenge of introducing her fellow hikers to printmaking while on the trail.

“I’m conducting a bit of an experiment on the trail,” she said. “If hikers join me at my trail presentations, I’ll talk a little bit about the work I’ve done so far, but I also packed and shipped out some supplies so hikers can do a simple printmaking project. I’ve made prints with people in lots of places, but never on a backpacking trip! We’ll see what happens. My talk in Whitehorse will be a bit more of a conventional artist’s talk and, by then, I should have some perspective on the trail and the experience.”

Tabbert will be on the trail from Aug. 21 to Sept. 3. She can be found along the route on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. Alaska time at Sheep Camp and on Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. Alaska time at Linderman City for workshops on relief block printing. On Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m. she will give an artist’s talk at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse, discussing her experiences during the Chilkoot Artist Residency and on other public lands, and how these experiences have shaped her work.

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