One hundred Alaska and B.C. First Nation’s artists are profiled.
It has been many months now since I returned from the mist-shrouded ‘Island of Artists’ off the west coast of British Columbia, and the vast land to the north known as the Alaskan Panhandle. I have had time to reflect on the wonderful people I met along the way, and how I finally found myself on a ten seater float plane high above Hecate Strait on my way to the mystical village of Masset, some seven weeks after my departure from Vancouver. What happened to me during those seven weeks and the two weeks that followed on the ‘Island of Artists,’ was nothing short of amazing and an experience that I will cherish forever.
My original plan had been to visit the new Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay in Skidegate but the morning after I arrived in Prince Rupert on Air Canada Jazz Flight 203 my plans changed drastically. I found myself about to embark on another adventure of a lifetime. The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry arrived in Prince Rupert the next morning and I stepped on board.
I saw more than Alaska. I had always wanted to see Alaska and see Alaska I did! I spent a week each in Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and finally Anchorage. I left Anchorage on October 30 and arrived back in Prince Rupert on November 1. Once back in Prince Rupert, the weather was still quite mild, so I took a chance and headed east to Terrace for a week and then to Hazelton. I had in mind that I wanted to be on the ‘Island of Artists’ for my birthday (November 22), but how could I get back to Prince Rupert and then to Haida Gwaii safe and sound, with the least amount of wear and tear on my body and soul? That was the challenge. I decided to take the train. After all my other adventures on this trip, I was so happy that I wasn’t going to miss out on finally going to Haida Gwaii, that I affectionately dubbed the train:
‘The Train to Haida Gwaii’
Along my incredible journey, I met and discovered many national treasures. I refer to them all affectionately as, the passengers on the train to Haida Gwaii: Nathan Jackson, Ken Dekker, Norman Jackson, Marvin Oliver, Brita Alinder, Reggie Peterson Sr., Charlie Shockley Jr., Nicholas Galanin, Tommy Joseph, Dave Galanin, Willis Osbakken, Ed Malline, Gene Chilton, Doug Chilton, Brian Chilton, Sonny Grant, Anna Brown Ehlers, Percy & Ed Kunz, Beasley Boys, Florence Sheakley, Donald Gregory, Lonnie Hodge, Wayne Price, John Hagen, Clifford Thomas, Greg Horner, ‘the three ladies from the gift shop at the Native Medical Center in Anchorage,’ Darlene C. Nichols, Diana Burton, Gloria Cunningham, Jerry Lieb Jr., Laura Wright, Franklin F. Matchian, Moses Wasslie, Julian Iya, Bryon Lloyd Amos, Jan L. See, Lisa L. Powell, Karen Pungowiyi, Rose Albert, Emma Hildebrand, Robin P. Fields, Dennis Pungowiyi, Lenwood Saccheus, Eva Bryant, Douglas Yates, Ursula Paniyak, laura J. Lagstrom, Susan Henry, Patrick Lind, Percy C. Avugiak, Peter Lind Jr., Peter Lind Sr., Alfred Naumoff, Andrew Abyo, Marlene Nielsen, Tony Weyiouanna, Francis & Mary Kakoona, Dennis Sinnock, Walter K. Nayokpuk, Martina John, Lela Ahgook, Beauford “Charlie” Pardue, June L. Pardue, Umara Nupowhotuk, Rainey Higbee, Samantha Goodwin, Larry S. Okomailak Sr., Joanne Swanson, Selina Alexander, Geo McKay, Jacqueline McNeil, Titus Aukland, Todd Stephens, Dempsey Bob, Stan Bevin, Earle Muldon, Alver C. Tait, Ron Sebastian, Evelyn Vanderhoop, Jim Hart, Reg Davidson, Christian White, Christine Carty, Marlene Liddle, Teri Russ, James Sawyer, Joyce Bennett, Robert Bennett, Cory Savard, Cooper Wilson, Carrie Anne Vanderhoop Bellis, Merle Anderson, Georgia Bennett, Ernie Burnett, Ben Davidson, Roberta Olson, Dolly Garza, Gladys Vandal, Claytone Gladstone, Robert Vogstad, Giitsxaa, Sylvia Young, Victoria Moody, Tim Boyko, Garner Moody, Billy Bellis, Nelson Cross, Tom Greene Jr., Norman Price, Wayne Wilson, Gregory N.Williams, Ben Davidson, Val Malesku, Wendy Malesku.
There were none more important than another and they all had a story to tell as they went about their daily lives. I am only sorry that three people who should have been on board missed the train: Delores Churchill, Teri Rofkar and Robert Davidson. However, the next time you see ‘The Train To Haida Gwaii’ on a bookshelf near you I hope that they too will be on board.
EXCERPT: Chapter 7 – The Ladies from the Hospital – A visit to the Alaska Native Art Fair.
There were lots of native people scurrying in and out through the tall glass front doors of the Dena’ina Center when I arrived. What a great place to celebrate the creativity of these impressive artists, I thought. Inside, the foyer was packed as well. People were talking and moving about; some were dressed in colorful regalia but most just in street clothes. I caught a glimpse of the main exhibit hall above the heads of the people entering and leaving. I could see booths filled with colorful art, even though I was still some distance from the doorway and trying to make my way through the crowd. Finally, I made it through the doors and it was breathtaking! There were over 100 booths set up around the perimeter of the room and several more rows of booths in the middle. I didn’t know where to begin so I started moving around the perimeter.
All the booths were different. The lady in the first booth, sold brown fur-edged gloves, with intricate bead work on the backside. The artists’ name was Eva Bryant. I told her about my guide and asked if I could take her photo to include on a free artist profile. She happily agreed. I learned Eva excells in skin sewing, meticulously joining leather and fur into practical clothing.
“I’ve been sewing since I can remember,” she said. “I guess whatever my mother did I wanted to do.” She was Yup’ik and also a bilingual tutor.
At the next table, I met Douglas Yates. He was from the small fishing village of Metlakatla. He had apprenticed under master carver David Boxley and was renowned for his striking hand-engraved copper clan crest shields. They were magnificent.
There were so many artists, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. In the next booth, I met a lady named Donna from Chugiak who made wonderful moccasins out of seal fur with beading on the top. Then, there was Susan Henry from Wasila who made miniature dolls and an artist named Patrick Lind who told me,
“My life has led me to be a commercial freelance artist. The rugged coastal region where I live inspires me as an artist to take pride in my culture.”
Everything I saw, was meticulously handcrafted. Percy C. Avugiak, a marvelous painter who paints in bright oranges and blues and yellows and greens, was there.
It was often a family affair. Peter Lind Jr. is a third generation Alutiiq artist born in Dillingham. He cuts ivory jewelry which is then beaded by his wife Susan who was born in Kodiak. Peter Lind Sr. said he always wanted to learn about his culture.
The artists were from all over Alaska. Alfred Naumoff was an Alutiiq from Kodiak Island. He specializes in masks, kayaks and jewelry. Andrew Abyo confided to me that he was known for doing lots of historical research. He specializes in Alutiiq bentwood visors, atlatls, harpoons, full size paddles, traditional games and baidarka carvings.
Then I met Marlene and Gary Nielsen.
“My dolls and masks all have the facial features of my grandma,” Marlene said. “My grandma was Anna Andrew. She was blind and my biggest inspiration. She sewed, split fish and picked berries. My goal as an artist is to help our youth to remember who we are and where we come from. My husband and sons also carve wood, ivory and make spears and knives. I am Yup’ik.” Marlene came from the village of Kokhanok .
Anne and Tod Fritze specialize in beaver mittens and fur hats. The majority of the fur sewn by them comes from beaver, fox, otter, marten and wolves that were trapped by Todd and their boys, Bem and Bryan. They were from Dillingham. All were amazing!
PHOTO CREDIT: (TOP) Ksan Native Village (replica), Hazelton, B.C.
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