Artist Jay White explains the plans he has for his Chilkoot Trail art by showing a similar piece he created in Inuvik, Northwest Territory. Katie Emmets

Canadian artist spends two weeks on Chilkoot Trail


After his artistic journey is complete, he will give those who have never hiked the Chilkoot Trail an opportunity to view it through his drawings.
As part of the Artist Residency Program sponsored in part by the National Park Service, Canadian artist Jay White will spend two weeks on the trail creating art that is representative of his experience.
But this 38-year-old Bowen Island, British Columbia resident is no stranger to the Chilkoot Trail.
On July 31, to an audience of more than 20 people, White told the story of how he first came to this region.
In 2002, he decided he was done living in Vancouver, so he hitchhiked out of the city, took a few ferries and ended up in Skagway.
Upon arrival, he decided to hike the Chilkoot with whatever supplies he had on his back.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
The few cans of chili and bags of trail mix didn’t last very long, and White had to rush to finish the hike.
“I wound up doing it in two-and-a-half days, he said. “I jogged the last half of the trail with a guide. It was pretty difficult.”
After he finished the trail, he hitchhiked to Whitehorse.
“I fell in love with the Yukon,” he said before taking a long pause. “Whew. I get a little choked talking about it. And I just got back. I missed it.”
He fell so in love with the Yukon that he left Vancouver, moved to Marsh Lake and continued his job as art director for a television show remotely.
White said art is something he has always done.
“I’ve lived in my imagination a lot,” he said. “It’s the way my brain has always worked.”
While learning to entertain himself, White started incorporating storytelling into his imaginational repertoire, which shows prominently in his art.
Though he normally composes animation and short films, the storytelling White will do on the trail will be comprised of comics.
Each day, White will draw six scenes of something he sees on the trail.
This form of art affords White the opportunity to be immersed in the nature and history of the trail while interacting with hikers instead of sitting in the isolation of a studio.
“There will be so many people and so much happening,” he said. “How will I go about picking six things a day?”
White decided that he will set his watch alarm for six different times throughout the day, and when the alarm goes off, he will turn, point to something and draw it immediately.
“Like music, I don’t want it to be a perfect composition of time,” he said. “I want to shake it up a little bit.”
White started his 21-page comic the day he left Vancouver on July 31.
“I didn’t want to do a start-to-end of the trail,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of things happening outside of the Chilkoot Trail, and it’s important to recognize all the things that surround it, including the journey you make to get to it.”
His trip’s early sketches include a scene from his airplane ride, a bus audio speaker, and the ceiling of the Bonanza Bar and Grill’s bathroom.
White said the act of drawing immediately after the alarm goes off allows for him to interact with others who are curious as to why he is sitting in the middle of the sidewalk drawing or drawing in the Bonanza’s bathroom.
White predetermined the six different drawing times for each day of his journey and wrote them in his journal so he knows when to set his watch alarms for each day.
The method White is using to create art allows for viewer interpretation of his work.
“Who cares what I have to say,” he said with a laugh. “This way, instead of telling someone what happened, they will be able to interpret it for themselves. There will be a story there, but it won’t be me telling the story. Maybe people will make up their own story.”
While on the trail, White will work on another project in which he will pick a scene and study it in his head. When he returns home, he will take a canvas and paint that scene from memory.
“When I’m done, I’ll take a picture of the canvas,” he said. “Then, I’ll go back the next day, remember more things, change the painting and take another picture.”
White will continue this process until he is satisfided with the piece, and then he will create a stop-motion film with the photos he takes each time he amends his painting.
White was one of two selected for the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency program sponsored by Parks Canada, the National Park Service, the Yukon Arts Centre and the Skagway Arts Council. Out of nine applicants, White was chosen as the Canadian artist and Corrie Francis Parks from Big Sky, Montana was chosen as the United States artist.
According to a Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park release, Parks, who was on the trail from June 25 to July 7, offered hikers an opportunity to record their impressions of the monumental crossing of the Chilkoot summit.
“Personal triumphs and hardships were shared on postcards in the form of stories, poems and drawings,” stated the release. “Parks will mail back the postcards in a year so hikers can reflect on their adventures as they followed in the footsteps of the stampeders from Dyea, Alaska t Bennett Lake, British Columbia.”
When completed, White’s comics and memory piece will be on display at the Yukon Arts Centre.