New Dene craft shop hopes to be hub for northern artists

·3 min read
Lesley Ann Evans, left, and Rose Martel are the new entrepreneurs behind the new shop Dene Divas Traditional Arts and Crafts in Old Town Yellowknife.  (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)
Lesley Ann Evans, left, and Rose Martel are the new entrepreneurs behind the new shop Dene Divas Traditional Arts and Crafts in Old Town Yellowknife. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)

A new shop for Dene crafts is offering a storefront for beaders, sewers and fish scale artists in Yellowknife.

Rose Martel and Lesley Ann Evans are the business partners behind new Dene Divas Traditional Arts and Crafts in the former Just Furs building in Old Town Yellowknife

The shop, already displaying shelves of furs, jewlery and pairs of moccasins, opened Friday as a hub to support other crafters and showcase the talent of northern artists.

As artists themselves, they say they're committed to ensuring fair prices for artisans who spend hours on their crafts.

Natalie Pressman/CBC
Natalie Pressman/CBC

"A lot of them, they sell their product for next to nothing," Martel said of elders and local artists.

"Bigger stores market it up to three hundred and four hundred dollars. And we want to try to treat everybody equal."

When Evans learned of Just Furs' closing, she decided to inquire about renting the space for her own products. Knowing Martel from craft shops around town, Evans asked Martel if she would be interested in becoming partners. Martel didn't hesitate to accept.

Hybrid of traditional and modern

While balancing their day jobs, the pair has worked around the clock painting and preparing in the weeks leading up to Friday's launch.

They see the shop's opening as a trial run, Evans said.

"We'll be open for a couple of months and see how it goes. We're mostly just here to help support other artists, help show their work," in addition to their own products.

For Evans, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, artistry has been a part of her life for decades. She learned to sew as a little girl at about four or five years old, she says and has passed along the craft to her own daughters.

Martel, a Dene woman originally from Hay River, N.W.T., came into crafting only within the last decade.

Having turned her life around from a cocaine and alcohol addiction, Martel took up sewing as a pastime in jail.

"I never really bothered with it until I decided to change my life," she said. Now eight years sober, "I never look back, no regrets," Martel said.

Natalie Pressman/CBC
Natalie Pressman/CBC

The partners describe their work as a hybrid of traditional and modern, with classic beaded on caps and pop sockets for example.

Five artists are currently on display at Dene Divas, which will be open most days from 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., the pair said.

'What have we got to lose'

As long as doors are open, shoppers are welcome, noting they are still balancing their own day jobs at the same time.

They also hope to offer workshops during the summer months for crafters looking to improve their skills.

Seeing Yellowknifers browse the newly opened shop has been a relief, the pair said.

Though launching a northern arts store may not have been a dream the pair had in the works for long, taking advantage of the opportunity instinctively felt right for the Dene entrepreneurs.

"We weren't planning it, it was so random," Evans said, "just spur of the moment."

"What have we got to lose," Martel added.

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