This past July, if you were hiking the Chilkoot, you may have caught a glimpse of a woman in a white dress, grubby from travel, walking the iconic trail.
Strains of her voice could be heard drifting around camp in the evenings, as she alternated between story and song, and her sharp eyes captured images on canvas by day.
She wasn’t an apparition from the gold rush days, but modern-day Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger. She was one of three intrepid artists taking part in the Yukon Arts Centre’s Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency Program. During the two-week program, Bauberger hiked the trail from Dyea to Bennett Lake and took the White Pass Trainto Fraser.
One of her primary mediums is encaustic painting, which is using heated beeswax with paint pigment added. However, on this occasion she opted to take notes and photographs and paint acrylic paintings of the trail and landscape, leaving her encaustic supplies at home.
“There is nowhere to plug in the pan on the hike, and besides, I’m sure that beeswax smells appealing to bears, so this phase of the work is best done off the trail,” she says.
Bauberger drawings and photos collected from the Chilkoot Trail were used to inspire her newest 100 Dresses show.
Bauberger’s 100 Dresses series has been inspired by many cities across the North and throughout Canada.
“My Dress projects engage people with their sense of place,” she says. “They began (and continue) as painting projects, where I paint 100 small encaustic paintings of dresses on site, all inspired by that particular time and place, and invite others to do so with me, resulting in a portrait of a place in 100 small details, carefully observed and whimsically rendered.”
Yukon Transportation Museum curator – and 7-time Chilkoot Trail alumna – Casey McLaughlin traveled with Bauberger.
“We had awesome weather,” says Bauberger. “I lived in a tent, and carried it. We stayed two nights at each site, but most days we hiked from one camp to the next.”
Graced with the luxury of modern amenities like bridges and boardwalks, and not required to carry a ton of supplies, Bauberger focused instead on learning about her strengths.
“Doing something like hiking the Chilkoot Trail seemed kind of impossible to me, but now that I’ve done it, there are lots more hikes I’d like to do,” she says. “I certainly feel stronger.”
Her pack also included a musical instrument.
“I carried my ukulele over the pass and wrote songs for the trail along the way,” she says cheerfully.
In lieu of passing a note from one hiker to another, Bauberger, uke in hand, opted to deliver a singing telegram, entitled, “Leaving on a Float Plane,” to the tune of (you guessed it) the John Denver classic.
100 Dresses for the Chilkoot Trail will be exhibited during the month of August at the Yukon Transportation Museum, which is located beside the Whitehorse airport.