Catching up with Harreson Tanner

Last October, What’s Up Yukon featured a story on Yukon sculptor Harreson Tanner. It spotlighted Tanner’s move to Ontario, only to find he and his wife Pat reneging on their retirement and returning to the Yukon to live in Old Crow for a year.“People said, ‘What are you going to do?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know’. I kind of became like an observer.” says Tanner of his move to Old Crow. He decided to write a “muse” to his friends on Facebook about his adventures. Tanner had amassed 5000 friends through his art connections, but he didn’t think anyone was really interested.  Then he started seeing the “likes” on his blogs multiply, curiosity grew re: his life in Old Crow. Tanner also saw the community as a great opportunity to create an artisan residency. Artists in Old Crow could immerse themselves in the serenity of living in an isolated area, while providing artistic mentorship for students and townsfolk.With the approval of Chief and Council, Tanner brought photographer Leslie Leong, landscape artist Jackie Dowell-Irvine, and world-class portrait artist Suzanne Paleczny to Old Crow. Tanner and Paleczny went door-to-door and took pictures of elders, and listened to their stories in hopes of capturing their spirit through drawing and sculpting. “Suzanne and I were not sure where the project was going and how broad it could be. My idea is to do elders from all 14 First Nations. We’re hoping it will morph into that,” he explains.It was hard for Tanner to sculpt in Old Crow. Not because there was a lack of inspiration, but because of the costs to send up his clay.“A 50-pound box of clay that cost $25 to ship to Whitehorse cost $75, and then $90 to send it to Old Crow. Clay now costs $190!” Wrote Tanner. Aside from artistic expenses Tanner also had to deal with living in a Northern community that didn’t always have the creature comforts of a bigger town. The “hands on” approach to living gave him a great respect for the community and lifestyle:“Some people still have dirt floors and some still live at their camps, these are tough people,” he says. “I never had to worry about food deprivation. If that food doesn’t come off the plane you’re knocking on someone’s door asking for caribou.“This year our furnace crapped out in the coldest, deadest part of winter. The plane’s not coming in, there’s no food, we’re burning wood as fast as you can cut it, and we didn’t know anybody. Someone said to call James Itzy; here’s an older guy, goes off to the mountain, comes to our door and drops off about half a cord with some caribou to eat on top of that.”    Despite the harsh weather, Tanner remained optimistic throughout his stay in Old Crow. In one of his musings he wrote, “It is invigorating to be challenged every day by your environment where there are no wishy-washy adjectives that are used. It’s more like ferocious, blinding, brilliant, howling and the beat goes on.” Now Tanner is back in Whitehorse and will continue his so-called “retirement”, working to further The Yukon Artist Relief Fund, which helps local artists in need, and the Yukon Artists at Work co-op. 

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