‘They can fix anything’: Young welders make art from spare parts

Cambridge Bay welders ‘far exceeding’ expectations in training program, says instructor

Mark Slatter, right, an instructor at the Red Fish Art Studio in Cambridge Bay, is pictured with Dylan Zukiwsky, left, and Brandon Kavanna, two of the young welders he mentors. In the centre is a metal bison head that will be welded onto a new sign for the local RCMP detachment. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

Welder Dylan Zukiwsky steadies himself next to a large sheet of metal laid out on a table, his gloved hands gripping an angle grinder.

Suddenly, a screech pierces the air and a burst of sparks flies directly in front of Zukiwsky, a stream of light hitting the panel across from him.

Those sounds of metal grinding on metal are what typically welcome visitors to the Red Fish Art Studio, a welding workshop and artist space in Cambridge Bay that overlooks the water behind the hamlet office.

Zukiwsky, 20, was one of two welders working on a new sign for the local RCMP detachment that day in early February alongside Brandon Kavanna, 21, the studio’s assistant.

The completed 10-foot sign, made of metal salvaged from old barrels and featuring a large crown, three-dimensional lettering and a metal bison head in the centre, was unveiled to the community Feb. 16.

It’s just the latest of several unique projects that are leading the studio, and its young welders, to make a big splash on the Nunavut art scene.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Welders from Cambridge Bay’s Red Fish Art Studio pose with RCMP officers at the unveiling of a new sign for the local RCMP detachment on Feb. 16. The welders made the sign, which features a three-dimensional metal bison head in the centre, with metal salvaged from old barrels. (Photo courtesy of Mark Slatter)

The welding arts program has been running in the community for a few years, but the current Red Fish Art Studio, housed in a former fish processing plant, opened its doors officially in September 2021.

The studio also offers space and art programs for youth and elders.

Alongside Zukiwsky and Kavanna, Daryl Taptoona-Haynes, Robert Taptoona-Haynes and Andrew Kitigon round out the welding team. They work full-time at the studio, five days a week.

All of them are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are part of the program run by the hamlet and led by mentor and teacher Mark Slatter.

“My ultimate goal is getting these boys job placements,” Slatter said, sipping a coffee in the studio’s kitchen.

He doesn’t think that will be a difficult task, though.

“They can fix anything,” he said. “Everyone wants to hire these guys.”

Most of the large-scale projects the team works on require hundreds of hours of work and take a few months to complete, Slatter said.

The welders source recycled metal from discarded oil barrels, ship parts and various scraps from the junkyard. None of the metal they use gets painted at the studio. Instead, the artists find metal pieces that are already the colour they need.

So far, the studio has completed the fish-themed sign that greets visitors driving into town from the airport, a muskox and two wolves that guard the heritage park outside the studio, a bench at the hamlet cemetery, a crane and a bear that live in the hamlet office, and the world’s largest ulu that currently sits outside the studio under a frosty layer of snow and ice.

Welder Dylan Zukiwsky, 20, works on a new sign for the Cambridge Bay RCMP detachment made from salvaged metal, as Brandon Kavanna, 21, works behind him on another section of the sign. A metal sculpture of Sedna, the Inuit guardian of sea animals, is at the back of the room. Zukiwsky and Kavanna are two of five young welders who work at the Red Fish Art Studio, a local art space and welding mentorship program that teaches participants the skills needed to pursue careers in the trades.  (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“Unofficially the largest,” Slatter laughed. “I mean, I’ve never seen an ulu that’s 12 feet wide.”

They’ve also completed work on Sedna, or Nuliajuk, the Inuit guardian of sea creatures. Her hair is made from recycled mooring wire and her scales are pieces of coloured oil drums.

Sedna was originally built to sit by the port and greet boaters to Cambridge Bay, but when Gov. Gen. Mary Simon visited the studio last year, she asked that the sculpture be brought south to live at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Slatter hopes that when that trip eventually happens, possibly this summer, the young welders who worked on the piece can travel to Ottawa and be a part of the whole experience.

In addition to the sculptures of animals and mythical sea creatures peppered throughout the hamlet, the studio’s signature works are metal fish.

They’ve become the studio’s calling card — when Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, he presented him with a red fish.

And when cruise ships returned to Cambridge Bay in summer 2022 after a COVID-19 pandemic travel ban was lifted, tourists from as far away as Japan and the Cook Islands picked up their own eye-catching metal fish that come in colourful shades and spotted patinas.

Slatter said the dedication the team has to the program has been recognized by people in the community and beyond.

Dylan Zukiwsky, 20, holds a welded metal fish he made at the Red Fish Art Studio in Cambridge Bay. The distinctive fish, which references both the popularity of Arctic char in the community and that the studio is housed in a former fish plant, has become a staple art piece by welders in the studio. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

The studio won the $100,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2019, and since then have welded trophies of a muskox and a kayak for winners in subsequent years.

Zukiwsky said he loves the chance to be creative with the art they work on, while learning practical skills at the same time.

Kavanna said he likes doing mechanical work and learning different welding techniques.

Both young men are interested in eventually working in mining or taking up a trade, but for now they’re happy to take their time deciding what paths they’ll pursue as they train for their Canadian Welding Bureau exams.

The certification, which allows welders to work across Canada, requires mastering different welding and metalwork techniques.

Slatter said he’s confident the welders at the studio will perform well on the test.

With Cambridge Bay’s growing population and the success so far of the art produced by the studio, he said his ultimate goal for the Red Fish studio is to branch out and service more communities in the territory.

“It is far exceeding my expectations,” Slatter said of the program.


  • Welders from Cambridge Bay's Red Fish Art Studio unveilved a new sign for the local RCMP detachment on Feb. 16. The sign is made from salvaged metal from old barrels and features a three dimensional metal bison head. (Photo courtesy of Mark Slatter)


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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by tuktuborel on

    This is a great story. So glad that these young persons were given this opportunity to pick up a good trade that can serve them well in future employment. With this new skill set they can be both trades welders or great artists. We need more of this type of training.

    Great job guys!

  2. Posted by Robert Youens on

    As I traveled through the Arctic last year in my small boat and needed some fabrication help to do repairs, Mark and his skilled team of welder / fabricators stepped up and fabricated the parts needed to repair my boat. Thanks so much!

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