During the Klondike Gold Rush, saloons and theatres made enough gold to import some of the finest luxuries for their décor. Artworks and pianos were brought to the north, to create displays of opulence unheard of amongst the boom town drudgery of Dawson City. The Kleopatra statue which made her way to the Yukon was one of the most commanding art objects in the area at the time. Her intrigue lies not only in her alluring appearance but also the mysterious provenance that led her to the Yukon.
On the back of the base of the plaster statue, markings reveal that the plaster cast of Kleopatra was made in Cologne, Germany but how and when she got to the Yukon remains a mystery. The piece stands slightly over 100 centimeters tall and was designed with the orientalist aesthetic that was unquestionably fashionable in Europe at the time. She was delicately cast by an unknown worker in a German studio possibly known as Uriela. Kleopatra looks out onto the viewer in an outfit more reminiscent of the Far East then of ancient Egypt. She stands in sensual but strong pose donning a crown-like helmet to denote her royalty and command of an ancient dynasty. She is supported by two elephant heads which tapers before a slender base. Unfortunately, the years have taken their toll on her graceful form. Pieces of her plaster fingers are missing, revealing the inner metal structure. Although she is believed to be well over a hundred years old she still captures the gaze of unsuspecting viewers and reveals her quality and charm.
She is thought to have been brought over the Chilkoot Pass on the back of a miner at the height of the Gold Rush frenzy. Whether this is a romantic tale of how the statue got to the Yukon or if it was based on actual events is uncertain. It is known that similar statues reside in Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin. From them, we know that these statues were sold in the Egyptian pavilion, aptly named A Street in Cairo, at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The World's Fair, also named the Columbian Exposition, was the biggest of its time. The 'A Street in Cairo' exhibit was set up like an Egyptian market for the fair goers. Souvenirs could have been purchased from venders throughout the mock kasbah-like atmosphere. Kleopatra plaster statues were most likely present among the peddled wares. A dancer by the name of Little Egypt, made quite a stir at the Columbian Exposition with her brand of exotic belly dancing. The name Little Egypt became synonymous with exotic dancing throughout the United States.
The Kleopatra figure then became an obvious mascot for the Yukon saloons in Dawson, where dances with a saloon girl would cost a dollar a minute. This Kleopatra last called the Dominion Creek Road House home. The goldfields bar owners Elizabeth and Arthur Daily donated the statue to the Dawson City Museum in 1962.
Dawson City Museum, Dawson City