Kaylyn Baker 2023 Yukon Prize Recipient
Kaylyn Baker is a Northern Tutchone and Tlingit artist from the Yukon. She is a citizen of Selkirk First Nation based out of Whitehorse. Kaylyn is an avid beader, using a variety of traditional and contemporary materials and textiles. She draws on the principles of visual art to create her own designs. In addition to making jewelry, Kaylyn’s beadwork adorns garments and accessories, including mukluks, moccasins, purses, and regalia. Her work has walked the red carpet at the Emmy Awards, she was a featured designer at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week 2022 as well as the Adaka Art Festival Fashion Show in Whitehorse 2022. For Kaylyn beading is a way to connect with her ancestors through her spontaneous style of that she calls beaded storytelling.
My journey back to beadwork started in 2014 creating my daughters regalia. I beaded a belt and 6 patches, after which I was hooked. Over the years I experimented with many different styles, trying to find one of my own. I admired my moms style of beading anything she felt in the moment, even if that included giant beads, and a different colour scheme. After some tinkering, I started to incorporate that spontaneity into my own style. During this time I was working with Heather Dickson a lot and she introduced me to using gems and quills. I eventually learned to tuft using caribou hair. I loved how luxurious the beadwork was as I added the different techniques, eventually leading to me adding every technique I knew to each piece.
In 2016 a family member of mine passed away & while I was grieving him I started beading a design thinking of him. It turned into my signature “Rainestorm” design which is now part of my logo. After I realized I could capture his memory and interpret that into beadwork, I started to explore that.
It ended up really blossoming into this idea that I could recall my favourite childhood stories, memories, people, and create designs from that. When I create, it’s pure expression of how I feel in the moment. I love to design large pieces, to add as much detail as possible, so that no matter where you look you see something different. During my Canada Council grant I got to expand that further. I created 8 outfits, each illustrating not only a memory, but also a poem. I let my mind free while creating these pieces & found myself adding small details to make myself happy like having a poem titled “Standing In A Blizzard” and being able to physically stand in each of the 3 pieces for that outfit. I named the project “Dintth’in: Firestarter” Which is Northern Tutchone for the dry brush used to start a fire.
The Canada Council grant was just the beginning. I wanted to make this impact in the fashion world, like here I am. This is me, this is how I think. I want to build my “fire”, my career and my dream. My dream is to be published. I have this idea I started working towards. A book of poetry, stories, memories, language, even part recipe, that is all illustrated with beadwork & maybe even some photos of what inspired each poem. The book will be my “big bonfire”, but in order to make that happen I need enough poetry and beadwork, so each time I apply for any grant, or have time to create work I will be taking steps to advance in the fashion world and also adding to my dream project. I am creating beadwork for a living, so it’s not often I find time to take off for dream projects, but this is my dream and I’m willing to take chances to make it happen.
"Hunting & Gathering"
Antler Harness: Sheared beaver, green velvet, black acid wash moose hide, embroidery canvas, snare wire, klondike gold nuggets encased in glass, strawberry quartz, 24 karat gold plated beads, porcupine quills, a blend of contemporary & vintage beads, embroidery, bugle beads, sunstone, caribou hair tufting, howlite, B.C. jade, obsidian, malachite, emeralds, sapphire, copper plated beads, antique orange white hearts, turquoise, black onyx, garnet, purple jade & two caribou antler beads
“I was out for a cruise when my cousin saw a moose & my grandpa didn’t believe him I don’t remember if he cried, but my cousin didn’t lie & soon after my grandpa shot it I tried to be brave, when I seen that big moose face, but I never really seen that before. It’s tongue was off to the side, my eyes were so wide, as grandpa showed us what to do. That was one of my first hunting experiences that I can remember. It was crazy to see, but i knew I loved dry meat, so I stood there quiet & waited.
Another time I was in the woods with my mom when she randomly screamed, “wahoo”! We were out picking berries & although it was scary, I thought it was just something you do. Pick, pick, wahoo! So I did it too, thought we were having fun with those berries I later found out, when she’d let out her shout…It was for bears, not for berries. That was one of my first gathering memories.“
Caribou antler, seed beads, 24 karat gold plated beads, moose hide & Yukon trapped lynx fur
A gaze like the sunrise
Bringing warmth to my face
While I study the clouds & the colours
I almost can’t look away
The moment is fleeting
But the feeling is strong
& something to remember
When the dark comes along
Winter Sundog Shawl – white elk hide, ribbon, commercial tanned moose hide, dyed blue fox fur, 24 karat gold plated beads, porcupine quills, rubies, rhodonite, caribou hair tufting, raw diamonds, & embroidery
The afternoon is crisp
Ice fog off the river in wisps
Leaving a slow glitter in the air
Almost frozen in place
A reverse snowfall up there
& here a blanket of diamonds
A shiny white canvas
With a watercolour warning of bitter cold
Artist Statement: I created this poem thinking about walking in Pelly Crossing in the winter & also each time I see a sundog in the winter. The rainbow against the blue sky with flakes of glittery snow in the air while the sun blazes for the few hours it rises for. I wanted the artwork to surround you in different ways showing how there is sometimes a double sundog.
Salmon Stripper Shawl – a blend of contemporary & vintage beads, red agate, swarovski crystals, bugle beads, 24 karat gold plated beads, swarovski crystals, bugle beads, caribou hair tufting, moose hide, metallic silver suede, Kaylyn Baker Designs rose print cotton fabric, & black sheared beaver fur
“Fingertips whisper over the skin
These hands have always known you
Sliding between the flesh
with deliberate strokes
Conscious that we’re not alone in the room
I’ve been waiting so long to do this
A perfect body
Dancing around the pole
I won’t be around for a while
You’re not my only one“
This poem was inspired by a family joke my grandma started about us being “strippers” whenever we were cutting salmon. I wanted the poem to be provocative, when really its about fish. The shawl was created like you were the pole the salmon had to hang over to smoke and dry. The back is the “smoke” coming up to the fish. I used home tanned hide, so you can also smell the smoke
"A Storyteller's Pride"
Aurora Shawl – emeralds, contemporary beads, black acid wash moose hide, dyed ermine fur, sequins, embroidery, & black melton wool
Digging around for something
I know she sees me“
I chose a haiku because I felt like it would have an unspoken bond feel, like she knows what it all means. She told my mom that I would always be digging around looking for something & if she sees me telling these stories while living up to my name it would make her happy.
This was created with the idea of making my ancestors proud. One in particular is my great grandmother Angela Sidney who was a famous storyteller. My work is a way to tell stories, so I imagined her face smiling down at me from the Tlingit aurora of seaweed & ermine fur. I incorporated the black acid wash moose hide to mimic the starlight behind the aurora. The sequins against the black melton wool was a nod to traditional button blankets.