Frozen in time: Yellowknife artist preserves snowflakes, repurposes them into jewelry

·2 min read

It wasn't until Dalhai Vela was in her 30s that she experienced her first snowfall.

"I was so surprised … I called my parents," said the Yellowknife mother of two originally from Mexico. "I wasn't expecting snowflakes to be those perfect symmetrical shapes.

"We all thought that snowflakes, you know, the kind that are shown in movies or cartoons, we thought that you were going to see those shapes only through a microscope or a magnifier."

Those first snowflakes began an obsession that has led her to come up with a process of capturing and preserving them. She then turns the frozen flakes into sterling silver jewlery.

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

Dalhai Vela and her family have lived in Yellowknife for about two years.

Vela was born and raised in Mexico City and comes from a family of artists. Her background is in industrial design.

She and her husband moved to Calgary about five years ago. Another job brought the family to Norman Wells, N.W.T., where the long winters provided her the opportunity to experiment and come up with a method to preserve snowflakes.

After a couple of years, the family relocated to Yellowknife, where she works inside her home studio creating pieces that have sold to locals and temporary workers passing through, looking to capture a piece of the territory. They have also been recently displayed at on online show based in Manitoba and have garnered international interest, including in Mexico and South America, where she said people are excited to see a snowflake up close.

Submitted by Dalhai Vela
Submitted by Dalhai Vela

Vela wouldn't go into details about how she captures the snowflakes. The method currently has a patent pending, a process she said could take years. What she would say is that it involves several industrial processes and being outside in cold temperatures as the snow is falling.

She said she has preserved hundreds of snowflakes. Vela classifies them into four different groups, based on their appearance.

"Yellowknife is the perfect place for snowflakes," she said. "All the different shapes and sizes are found in Yellowknife."

She designs and manufactures all her pieces, taking inspiration from northern Canadians and "the beautiful landscapes and the northern lights."

Through support from NWT Arts, a territorial-funded organization that promotes artists in the territory, she has created a website and has been busy preparing pieces for her next showing with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton.

"It's amazing to be able to share my passion for snow with other people," she said.

"And even with people who have been experiencing snow for their entire lifetime."