Where the Wild Women Are

“Ravens in Blue” by Jennifer Walden

During the hour I spend interviewing Maureen Morris and Sandra Grace Storey I barely ask a question. The paths of the two artists have crossed more than once during their careers, but today is the first time they meet. They sink easily into the same bench and begin sharing techniques and inspirations. I sit across from them, an eavesdropper, taking notes.

Storey and Morris are two of the three female artists comprising North End Gallery’s group show, Where the Wild Things Are, opening this weekend. Storey is a sculptor, and Morris is a carver; both are long-time Northerners whose art is deeply inspired by landscapes and wildlife.

Born in Whitehorse, Storey “fled” when she was 17, to study sculpture in Vancouver. She worked at a place that held one of Morris’s early exhibits — an outrageously successful show with a lineup down the street. She was inspired.

She went on to spend the next 25 years in New Zealand before finding her way back to the Yukon in 2006, settling in Tagish, not far up the road from Morris.

Morris grew up in Vancouver, and also studied sculpture there, at the very same school as Storey, years earlier. She settled in Atlin 40 years ago, almost accidentally, during a road trip with her husband. “It was a fl uke,” she says. “We drove in and I said, ‘I’m staying.’”

Although she had been carving jade at the time, it was here she discovered antler and bone, the materials that have kept her fascinated for the last 40 years. “I tried caribou antler about a week after we got here,” she says. “I never looked at jade again.”

Storey has a similar relationship to her own material of choice, which she’s worked with for the full 28 years of her career. “I never could get away from clay,” she says. “I think if I just explored Tagish Lake and clay for the next 30 years I’d barely scratch the surface.”

And Morris’s work can attest to this. After 40 years working with the same antlers and bones in the same small Northern town, Maureen’s carvings continually explore new forms, images, themes, and even textures.

The other artist in the trio is Yellowknife-based painter Jennifer Walden. Best known for her large acrylic landscapes, the North End show will explore new territory. “You’ll still see my landscapes,” she says. “But I’ve been asking, how does the light hit these wild places? I’m trying to paint light as if it’s a tangible object in the air you can see.”

Hailing from Ontario, Walden has lived in the Northwest Territories for 13 years, and has been working full time as an artist since 2007. “I’ve painted my whole life,” she says. “It just hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would actually buy what I was painting. I didn’t have that faith in myself.”

It was a maternity leave that encouraged her to try it professionally. Away from her job, she rented a space and displayed her work. She sold 95 per cent of her pieces. She’s worked as both a full-time artist and a single mother since. “For me having kids was the motivation I needed to get diligent and work hard enough — now I have people depending on me.”

It’s the same kind of story for Storey and Morris. At some point they just stopped working their other jobs. “I guess you get to a time where you don’t have your whole life ahead of you,” Storey says.

Before that, both Storey and Morris supplemented their incomes by bartending while practicing their art on the side. It’s a tune I’ve been playing for years.

Storey assures me — “We started where you are now.”

Where the Wild Things Are opens with a reception on Friday, May 8 at North End Gallery. The show runs until the end of the month.

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