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Where’s Walt? Exhibition organizers launch hunt for lost art

Bill Braden, left, and Sarah Swan with a Terry Pamplin portrait of Walt Humphries
Bill Braden, left, and Sarah Swan with a Terry Pamplin portrait of Walt Humphries. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The organizers of an exhibition dedicated to Walt Humphries are struggling to track down many of the Yellowknife artist’s originals.

Sarah Swan and Bill Braden have now launched a public appeal for help in tracing where some of Humphries’ works may have ended up.

The exhibition is set to open at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in December.

“Walt is an incredible local artist, he’s produced a lot,” Swan told Cabin Radio, “but a lot of his artworks are ‘lost’ — meaning they’re in people’s homes in Yellowknife that we’re not aware of, or they’ve travelled across Canada, or even further, with people who have moved away from this place.



“So we’re hoping to get some of them back.”

Swan and Braden are offering to arrange for shipping and cover reasonable costs if someone outside Yellowknife unearths an original Walt Humphries in their home.

They stressed that originals, and not prints, are being sought.

“He’s been an artist just-about all his life now,” said Braden. “He was showing us works that go back, gosh, what, 40 years?



“He has kept a lot of his own work — many of those wonderful feature pieces of his that documented Yellowknife in the 70s and 80s, the amazing community that grew around Northland where he lived, the Old Town, and his works about geology as a geologist and a prospector out in the camp, out in the bush.

It’s crazy. It’s satirical. And it’s funny as hell. SARAH SWAN ON WALT HUMPHRIES’ WORK

“He tells an amazing story about so many aspects that Yellowknife is familiar with, and many of those original paintings have been sold. They’re out there. We know where some of them are, but we’d sure like to find out where all of them are.”

Humphries moved to Yellowknife in the early 1970s, becoming a one-man prospecting operation. He is renowned for his knowledge of the city’s mining industry, his passion for the local dump, and his talents as a self-taught artist.

In an interesting twist, having spent his life exploring the Northwest Territories, he now finds people being urged to prospect for his own paintings in their living rooms and offices.

“We would love to find several of the paintings about the riots in Old Town,” said Swan.

Cabin Radio's Jesse Wheeler studies a Walt Humphries print in Studio One

Cabin Radio’s Jesse Wheeler studies a Walt Humphries print in Studio One.

“We would love to find those — we have prints, but not originals, so if any of you have a violent Walt Humphries piece that shows a lot of protests and anarchy on the streets of Yellowknife, we’d love to get our hands on it.”



Swan said Humphries’ works depicting riotous or post-apocalyptic scenes in Yellowknife are among her favourites.

“It shows such a unique vision of this place. It’s not pretty,” she said, “and yet there are moments of beauty and poetry in his work.

“But it’s anti-establishment. It’s crazy. It’s satirical. And it’s funny as hell.”

Swan and Braden have created a dedicated email address which can be used by anyone who thinks they may have a Walt Humphries original on their walls.

They ask anyone getting in touch to send photos so the artwork can be clearly seen. If the work deserves a place in the exhibit, its owner may be asked to loan the piece for the duration with the organizers covering shipping costs.

The show is expected to run from December 2019 until June 2020.