The works of a Yukon-based artist will travel the continent this summer


Randi Nelson will need all the porcupine quills she can get for shows in Santa Fe, Toronto and here in the Yukon

If you come across a porcupine on the side of the road this summer, save it for Randi Nelson. The Yukon artist will need all the quills she can get her hands on to keep an eye on the various locations where she'll be showing her work between June and August.

“I'm always on the lookout,” Nelson says. “Often other people find them on the side of the road and bring them to me… I honor them by being able to use their spines. It's a lot of work to clean them and get them… and it's nice to know where the animal came from.”

Where do these quills go after Nelson has hand-dyed them and incorporated them into her artwork? To the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico.

“It's something I've always been interested in,” Nelson says. “It's a milestone to be there. It's prestigious and hard to get in.”

The 102-year-old market, which features North American Indian crafts from across Canada and the United States, awards points to entrants for their work, including any components that were hand-harvested, sourced, manufactured or otherwise incorporated into the finished work, including jewelry, clothing, ceramics, sculptures, beadwork and more.

They don't accept reprints. They don't accept certain materials. Everything has to be original high art.

Nelson applied in two categories, including diverse arts and beading and feather embroidery. She said she was thrilled to be accepted and even more excited to be travelling with a group of northern artists supported by the Yukon First Nations Cultural and Tourism Association (YFNCT) and the Northwest Territories Arts Program.

They include Vashti Etzel, Montana and Delaney Prysnuk, Janelle Hager and Amy Tessaro from the Yukon. From the Northwest Territories they are John Sabourin, Darrell Chocolate, Antoine Mountain, Sheena Yakeleya and Shawna McLeod.

For Nelson, who has both Secwepemc and European ancestry, this will be the culmination of an already big year.

In April, filmmaker and broadcaster Sarain Fox wore Nelson's jewelry and one of her dresses at the Junos.

In March, a pair of her earrings were photographed on the Oscars red carpet when actress Jillian Dion (who played Minnie in Killer of the Flower Moon) she wore at the event. Dion wore another pair at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.

In addition, Nelson says she feels like she has outdone herself both creatively and in terms of her technical skills when working on a new runway collection.

“I spent the last ten months designing it,” she says. “Ten months working on seven outfits.”

That's because each piece is based on a material that, in some cases, required Nelson to receive intensive instruction in how to work with that material. For example, she learned how to weave cedar from a master weaver on Haida Gwaii.

Each outfit was made to the best of her knowledge and skill, she says. When she showed them to people, they were amazed. But most importantly, she enjoyed the time she spent with seven unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

“Many artists find a pattern that is safe and easy and that you can produce multiple copies of and sell each time,” she says. “I put that aside and really went for it. It took everything.”

When she looks at her work, she feels like she can see all the inspiration that went into the design. She feels like she can see her language and her art, which is something she doesn't see very often in haute couture.

In early June, Nelson will attend the Indigenous Fashion Arts Marketplace in Toronto to show her work. When she returns to the Yukon, she will have an exhibition at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre and participate in the Adäka Cultural Festival. When all that is over, she still has a sizable inventory to travel to Santa Fe in August.

It's going to be a summer of creativity, she says. Although she's excited to travel with other northern artists, she says she's heard the market is more about competition than camaraderie, so she's working hard to bring the best she can to the market.

The works are of a very high standard. Among the approximately 100,000 visitors are collectors from all over the world as well as costume and set designers. Being selected as Best of Show or Best of Category from among the 800 artists can be life-changing, she says.

In addition to the two-day market, artists will meet with representatives from retail galleries. There will also be networking events, media coverage, fashion shows and more, according to a press release from YFNCT.

This will be one of the biggest things she's done this year – competing in an event she's been applying for for a long time. But Nelson says all the opportunities she's created for herself this year have given her confidence. She's ready.