Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for October 18, 2013

Celebrated artist marks a milestone birthday

People from across the territory gathered Thursday evening to celebrate renowned Yukon artist Jim Robb’s 80th birthday at the Gold Rush Inn.

By Christopher Reynolds on October 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

A GATHERING OF OLD FRIENDS – Friends and family gathered at the Gold Rush Inn on Thursday evening to celebrate Jim Robbʼs 80th birthday. Here Robb, seated, and Ed Isaak, Cal Waddington and Hank Karr, left-right, help Robb celebrate.

People from across the territory gathered Thursday evening to celebrate renowned Yukon artist Jim Robb’s 80th birthday at the Gold Rush Inn.

More than 300 people showed up, from Dawson City to Quebec, to ring in the anniversary.

“It was really emotional for me,” Robb told the Star this morning. “So many people came, and it was a huge, almost family party in a way.”

Known for his paintings and cartoonish drawings of “the Colourful Five Percent” — past and present local fixtures of quirky repute — Robb has been creating art in the Yukon for more than 55 years.

His first public work, a painting of the late Wigwam Harry, who invented his own idiosyncratic jig blending the Highland fling with a First Nations “war dance,” hung in the lobby of the now-demolished Whitehorse Inn, beginning in 1958.

The Yukon Brewing Co. made a special bottle label in honour of the occasion with a photo of the then 25-year-old Robb holding his eight-by-four-foot painting in the hotel lobby.

Robb’s brother and sister-in-law trekked up from Quebec, and with Premier Darrell Pasloski in attendance, Robb expressed gratitude for reuniting with “old-timers” like Otto Blattner and Babe Richards.

Blattner, who lives in Dawson City, “takes driftwood from the lakes and river and carves faces in them,” Robb said.

Richards, now in her 90s, raised a family of nearly a dozen and was daughter to former Whitehorse Inn owner T.C. Richards.

“It was a huge gathering, people from all over,” Robb said. “It was just a great reunion.”

Born in 1933 and raised in Montreal, Robb moved to the Yukon at age 22 to work as a surveyor on the Teslin River.

“That was the year they took the steamboats off,” he said. “I just fell in love with the country and the history of the place and the people.”

Robb also worked for the Canadian National Telegraph Co., but found his true calling in depicting the cabins and characters he first encountered as a young man.

He has painted everything from Whitehorse’s Log Skyscraper — a three-storey log cabin office — to the late Buzzsaw Jimmy — a Dawson City woodcutter who accidentally sawed off his own leg, only to do it again with his new wooden one.

As an octogenarian, Robb is barely slowing down. He plans to continue making art, and through it, branch out into storytelling.

He also hopes to produce a video series on the Colourful Five Percent — a trademarked term he coined in a column for the Star in 1971 which was resurrected in the 1990s.

Although he misses the rugged characters of days gone by, Robb said he appreciates many of the advances the territory has seen during the nearly 60 years he’s been here.

“People who need cataracts treatment and cancer treatment have specialists coming up. We never had that before,” he said.

“I still think it’s the greatest country to live in ... I just love the northwest.”

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