BY NICOLE BAUBERGER

Yellowknife needs more showing space for emerging artists. High rents in that city make the cost of wall space very high. But that hasn’t stopped Rae Braden.

It’s the Circle Square Mall, Yellowknife, the last Friday night in November. Braden has turned one of the empty stores into a gallery to present My Big Backyard. She works, putting labels on the wall, as we chat.

Braden, who is 26, was born in Whitehorse, but her family moved back to Yellowknife when she was a toddler.

She graduated from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in drawing and printmaking. She then returned home and found a government job for a few years until she saved up a nest egg. She resigned in the spring to do her art full-time. This show is the result of six months thinking, experimenting and making art.

When she left to begin her year as a full-time artist, first she had to create studio space. All artists need space to work, and studio space is even harder to find in Yellowknife than in Whitehorse. Braden needed it even more to house her giant flatbed intaglio press. Her folks found it on Craig’s List, made by someone in British Columbia. They “shipped it up on the ice road in a big crate.”

Her parents’ support also helped her with the space to put it. Braden renovated the detached studio in her parents’ backyard, putting in windows, an oil monitor and a wood stove. She built tables from old doors and named it Strata Studios. “It all comes in bits and stages.”

Her family was present at her show. Her sister Carmen played music at the opening. Her Mom was helping with sales.

Her Dad was hanging lights as I talked with Rae. Bill and his wife Val started the Yukon Gallery in Whitehorse in 1977, when there really wasn’t any other gallery space in the then much-smaller town. They sold it in 1987: “It’s tremendously satisfying to see it still going 30 years later.”

He remembers fondly the artists he worked with: Jim Robb, Edith Jerome and Maureen Morris, for example. He says they were all “pretty green” to the commercial gallery world, but they worked it out together.

He’s clearly proud of his daughter and enjoys the chance to revisit his “old trade” as he hangs the lights. “But she’s the boss. It’s her show.”

So what’s the show like?

It’s a collection of experiments with printmaking. It runs a range from relief prints with bold black lines to delicate drawings over watercolour monoprints, which are then run through a digital printer.

Rae Braden uses text handwritten in pencil, in some pieces, where you can just make out a few of the words. It’s all representational to one degree or another. Much of her work depicts birds.

She enjoys the range of printmaking. “You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.”

Postcards and greeting cards, featuring her block prints or photographs, provide a low-price-point way for people to buy her art, but her large framed original pieces are moving equally well.

An artist book in blues and yellows stretches its accordion fold across a table. It’s the result of a collaboration with Yukon printmaker Joyce Majiski. The two artists took part in this past summer’s five-artist expedition to Ivvavik National Park through their Artists in the Park program. The water-based media in the book were blended by dipping it into the Firth River.

Fellow Yellowknife artist Diane Boudreau also took part in the program. At the opening, she reminisced about Braden and Majiski hiking energetically off together into that Northern landscape they both love so well.

Another viewer, Alison Cartwright, has watched Braden’s work grow over the years. “We can thank Betty Wilcox at Sir John Franklin High School for many of your young artists. She has really nurtured them,” Cartwright comments reflectively.

Also on display, the Googelii Eye Cisco Zoetrope provides a fun interactive element to the show. It’s Braden’s entry into the Aurora Art Society’s Trashformation contest. Braden created it collaboratively with her boyfriend, Andrew Robinson. Robinson is an engineer, not an artist, but he “jumped in with both feet on this one”.

As you peer though slats from the side, and turn the piece, drawings of a fish seem to move in a simple form of animation. It’s constructed of found materials from the trash and the bush. It rotates on an axle with a brake hub still attached.

This sculpture won third prize in the Trashformation contest. That prize gets the winner a solo show this spring at the Northern Images Gallery in Yellowknife, exact date still to be determined. This will be Braden’s next show.

A date hasn’t been firmed up, yet, but she will be having a show at Copper Moon Gallery next spring.

Since her most-recent show has sold-out, she will be working on a new lineup for this show.

She looks forward to printing larger works on the wide bed of her press in the New Year.

See more of her work on her site: www.flickr.com/photos/strata_studios.