Darcy McDiarmid

Artist Spotlight: A painter and carver on her creative journey through nature’s realm

ᓄᓇᐃᑦ ᓴᖅᑭᑎᑦᑎᓂᖅ ᓯᕗᓂᒃᓴᒥᒃ ᐱᔾᔪᑕᐅᔪᓐᓇᖅᑐᑦ
A wood carving of a mask is laid facing upwards on a tablecloth with a red and white pattern.

Darcy Tara McDiarmid’s work is a dream. Soft palettes and magic mixed on canvas invite you to explore a world where past and present meet in a dreamscape. Animals are gently coaxed from wood by tools and vision to show themselves. Darcy is Hän and Northern Tutchone from the Crow Clan of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nations. Born in Mayo, YK, and raised in Whitehorse, she now lives and works in Dawson City, on Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in territory. Her work depicts a relationship with long-ago relations, land and animals.Her mediums are paint on canvas and carving. 

A person with long wavy grey hair is shown from the waist upwards, wearing a carved wooden mask necklace and holding a carving knife.

This winter, Darcy spoke with me to describe her journey as an artist, and to speak to what art and culture represents in her life as a northern Indigenous artist: 

Art has helped me lead a healthy and successful life in that it’s very personally rewarding. I’m very interested in heritage and in honouring our ancestors as best as I can. I care about the environment, so art allows me to build connections with people who can help in the way that I can’t. 

I can kind of bring attention to helping our animal relatives with my art, but I can’t do that without connecting with other people. Art allows me to do that. 

Nature has made a big impact on my life in terms of getting me on the right track and healing. I’m able to spend my time focusing on nature in my art. I try to think of what nature is like, how it’s so calming, relaxing, mysterious. I want to try to capture in all my art the pristine beauty of the spirit of nature. That is what I’m always striving for.

A carved wooden necklace shaped like a fish, with a green eye inlaid. The necklace is also beaded with tubular beads with a swirling pattern in beige, white, and teal.

I feel like we get a wisdom that is not lost from our ancestors. Sometimes it comes back in different ways, through dreaming or a shared story. You feel like your ancestors are still with you. 

I’ve started to rethink my entire life—all the things I was taught during school. The best way I can describe re-indigenizing myself is trying to think of how my ancestors lived and try my best to get back to that way of life. I’m trying to do that by learning different traditional ways. I feel like I’m able to do that best with my art through dreaming. 

I’ve always paid attention to dreaming. Sometimes during a dream, I can get a highly detailed image, or might just get a little fragment. Or I might hear something, like ‘blue crow’ or ‘white, outlined owl’ and I will put it in my art and that art will go to the right person or the right place. Or it will create an opportunity. That’s exactly how I met one of my favorite Elders, Shirley Adamson. She made a painting called Dream Within a Dream and it really intrigued me. Even though I’m quiet, I wanted to get to know her. It led to us working together and doing a lot of collaborations. 

A carved wooden necklace featuring a long-necked bird with a blue eye inlaid. The necklace is also beaded with deep red seed beads.

I also will pay attention to nature. Sometimes I’ll see a little shape in the mist, or shadows in trees, or some animal in shelter. Or I’ll see caribou and just be mesmerized and honoured to be in their presence, and I try to capture that in painting. 

Carving is very relaxing to me. Other than my family, it’s one of the most important things in my life right now. It just makes me feel good being a carver. I want to earn the title of being a carver. I feel like at the end of my life if I can say that I’m known as a carver that I’ll have a good and satisfying life, and I’ll be satisfied with my life.

A wooden carving lies on a tablecloth patterned in beige and purple. The carving shows a roughly symmetrical beaked figure on either side with its legs curled up under its torso, and an animal face in low relief at centre with a long, square muzzle and short, pointed ears. Each face’s eyes are inlaid in black.

I feel a kind of grief when I don’t have my tools near me. I always want to bring them with me. One of my favorite things to do is to sit by the river or lake and carve and watch for loons. 

As a child my gramma used to tell us stories. The thing I knew most about my great-grandfather who was Chief Isaac, was that the family knew him as a dreamer. He was well known for caring for people during the gold rush, during the Klondike era. Because I knew he was a dreamer and we heard about different things he could do, I paid attention to dreaming my whole life. I can remember dreams from being a small child. As I grew into an adult, different dream teachers came into my life. I learned things from them, and they inspired me. I started keeping a dream journal by my bed, and I’ll sketch when I wake up as best as I can. I credit that a lot for where I am today as an artist. Because I pay attention to dreams. 

I really want to acknowledge the teachers I had at Northern Cultural Expressions Society. I don’t think I would have had the confidence if I wasn’t part of their crew. My carving teachers are Calvin Morberg, Justin Smith, Duran Henry and Colin Teramura. I feel like I just wouldn’t be anywhere without them. Because I was dealing with a First Nations gallery, I felt more confident to put my work out there. Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association has been very supportive as well. I really appreciate all their support.

A carved wooden comb with four long teeth and a low-relief image of whale is laid on a grey piece of rock on a red tablecloth, surrounded by a circle of 6 smaller, lighter-coloured rocks.

[Currently] I’m working with my brother (Jason McDiarmid) who is also an artist. We’re planning on doing some work at our family gravesite to honour our ancestors by trying to research how they were traditionally buried and see if we can pay homage to that in our own way. It’s still under development and is very meaningful for me. 

My daughter Rayny has taken to art the most. She comes to events with me. She is also a very talented painter. I’ve told her that she is the real artist in the family. I’m just doing a warmup for her. She told me back that she’s going to do a warmup for her own kids one day too.


Darcy McDiarmid’s work can be found at her studio at Chief Isaac Inc. headquarters in Dawson City, Northern Cultural Expressions Society (in Whitehorse) and at Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism, and at the Adäka Cultural Festival Gallery. She looks forward to also having her work at the Arctic Arts Summit.

To find the artist’s work online, visit Through Nature’s Realm on Facebook and Instagram

Author biography:

Christine Genier is a woman of the Wolf Clan and a citizen of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. She is a broadcaster, journalist, writer, poet, performer, language keeper, culture keeper, aspiring matriarch, mother, daughter, sister and wife. Since 1995 Christine has been navigating a career that spans northern theatre, journalism, broadcasting, writing and public speaking. In her work, Christine shares a lived experience that spans over four decades of bridging culture and recovering the Indigenous space with those prepared to engage. She is a gatherer of stories and moderator of talks. Her focus is on solutions-based and action-oriented dialogue. Christine Genier is a contributing editor to the Arctic Arts Summit platform.