Artrepreneur: Yukon Summer Art Trade

So far, the Yukon’s art market seems somewhat insulated from the economic uncertainties that are undermining art sales outside the territory.

I asked four arts-related businesses – two in Whitehorse and two in Dawson City – how this summer’s tourist trade went for them.

Delwyn Klassen, who works at the Yukon Gallery on 2nd Avenue in Whitehorse, observed that summer traffic “seemed to be pretty good.”

“It came in pulses over the course of a day, a pulse at lunchtime, another mid afternoon, maybe a few locals in the morning.”

He found that in August, many Australians came through his gallery. Also, fewer Americans and a larger percentage of Canadians. Earlier in the summer, he had more Europeans.

Framing is the backbone of the Yukon Gallery business, though the gallery ships artwork out to Canadian and European destinations one or two times a week.

Still, he finds tourists like to buy art cards and prints because they just travel better. Most art sales are local or to Canadians outside the territory.

Passersby may notice that the Yukon Gallery building is for sale. Owner Brenda Stehelin is interested in concentrating more on her own artwork in stained glass. But the business isn’t closed yet.

This fall it features a number of unadvertised sales, particularly in the photos, posters and prints owned by the gallery, as well as Frederick Lemke’s familiar landscapes featuring moose in lakes and bears next to roads.

They’re still taking orders for framing, and Stehelin showcased a new artist in the first week of September.

Visitors at Yukon [email protected] are mostly Canadians and Europeans, observes Bob Atkinson, chair of the cooperative. He reports that May and June were good, but July and August were down, partly because August the city started construction in the road outside the gallery. This made the parking lot sometimes tricky to get into.

Atkinson observes that CBC community reporters in Eagle Plains and Beaver Creek have noticed a big increase in motorcycle traffic on the highway. It’s a travel choice that makes sense in terms of fuel, but “you can’t carry a big canvas” home on a motorbike.

The group is planning lots of activities for Culture Days (September 30 to October 2), including Patrick Royle setting up his Raku kiln outside the gallery and Bud Young carving in the back.

At the end of September the gallery returns to winter hours, closing Monday and Tuesday.

In Dawson City, Leslie Chapman had a good summer overall at the Forty Mile Gold Gallery.

Chapman makes original jewelry from gold from her family’s placer mine. “People that could afford to buy gold jewelry were interested in buying bigger, more important pieces,” she says.

How did her store respond to the vastly increased price of gold?

“The gold price change has already forced me to be more high-end,” she says. But that’s exactly where she wants to go. She just gets to make bigger and more exciting pieces this winter.

Her visitors included more Europeans and fewer Americans this year. She figures that due to the economic situation in the US, “people are more worried and sticking close to home.”

She also found that the season finished about 10 days earlier than usual. It was very quiet when I called September 9. If this pattern persists, she might consider shutting down earlier for the winter.

A few streets over, the Klondike Nugget & Ivory Shop ( on Front Street has seen more than 100 summers selling creative wares. Primarily a jewelry store, they make jewelry on-site and also sell fine giftware and ivory carvings, focussing on local products.

I spoke to owner Uta Reilly there. She pointed out that, though the business had been there since 1904, she herself wasn’t running it back then. Although after a long day full of tourists, sometimes she feels that way.

While tourism is a big part of their business they also cater to the local market. They’re open all year, except for a couple of weeks after Christmas.

Reilly commented that her summer was pretty good, though she found the high price of gold made selling gold “a little tougher” and placed it outside some people’s price range.

Still, there were enough people looking for “one nice item” from the Yukon to take away from their northern adventure. The shop also carries a large selection of original sterling silver jewelry, so travellers could take a piece of the Yukon away with them at a more accessible price point.

Reilly found that there were a lot more Canadians travelling than usual. Europeans also had a strong presence. She felt that the Condor was a big help, making it easier for Europeans to reach the Yukon.

It’s encouraging to know that the vitality of the territory’s artistic output remains a draw for tourists, and locals, when they consider the Yukon for their summer plans.

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