Alaska Native Artist Spotlight - Audio Transcriptions

Sep 4, 2014

Alvin Amason:

I’m Alvin Amason.  And I was raised in Kodiak, and I reside here in Anchorage. I went off to college and was going to be a bush pilot.  I was taking flying lessons and engineering, and did really poorly in engineering -- really bad. So I just signed up for some art courses, and I just really liked it.  You, it kind of -- and then I started researching the content I had and -- and paying more attention to it. And I kept a journal of things that people would write -- what Elders would say about fish or recipes or weather patterns, those little sketches.  And as those things evolved -- the journal evolved, I was -- one of my mentors said this is what you should be painting, he’s looking in my journal.  And I just -- I needed to hear that from somebody. All of a sudden, I had a lifetime of content that was right in front of me all the time. In the shop when you’ve got all these blank canvases and thousands of dollars worth of brush and paint, you know, it’s -- it could be rather inhibiting to look at a blank canvas.  On the other hand, if you have an attitude you’re very brave, you’re going to have fun and -- and start making marks, it makes a lot of difference.  So to keep yourself in good mental shape. I’ll probably be on this journey from content from home in the islands for the rest of my life.

Andrew Abyo:

My name is Andrew Abyo, and I am a Sugpiaq artist.  I specialize in Alaska Native art.  And one of my specialties is to build full-size, traditional Sugpiaq kayaks. I didn’t grow up carving anything really.  I took my first class here at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, discovered that it was natural inside me, and I didn’t even know that.  My first class was for an Adeladel, and my second class was bentwood and hunt advisor.  That was taught by my uncle, Peter Lind. I grew from there, and I started learning about my -- about my culture. My inspiration, I would say, would actually be -- I didn’t know my culture and the history of my people.  And my two daughters, at the time I couldn’t blame anybody else if they didn’t know their culture.  They are the reason why I started is for them to know their culture and heritage. For me, one of the main goals is actually the construction of the kayaks is to bring them back.  I just think of myself as a steppingstone to have our kayaks in the Native cultures be more prevalent with -- with being used.  And at one time, our people were masters of the sea.  I would like to help bring them back.

Crystal Worl:

My Tlingit name is Kaakeeyáa.  My English name is Crystal Rose Demientieff Worl.  And I’m Tlingit Athabascan from Juneau and Fairbanks, Alaska. I have my BFA in jewelry metals from the Institute of American Indian Arts. I work in kiln and cast glass with recycled glass.  I work in jewelry metals.  And I also work in painting with gouache and (indiscernible). As a raven storyteller, I’m always creating images of the transforming raven or stories of raven. I study a lot of Tlingit form line, northwest coast design.  And I also like to explore with new mediums and experiment between the two and how those two can collaborate. I only hope that the future generations can look at my art and feel related to it and that they can continue to learn and share those stories of our ancestors and the values, continue form line and the design and how to create it, but also explore with new mediums and new territories.

Drew Michael:

My name is Drew Michael and I’m 29, soon to be 30, born in Bethel.  And my mother was Yupik and Inupiaq, and then my father was Polish. I was adopted out of Bethel into a white family.  And they decided to keep me and my twin brother in Alaska to keep us close in proximity to our culture and give us the opportunity to connect with our culture. So when I was growing up, I always felt like ashamed of being Native, because I didn’t have any role models of what it meant to be Native.  I didn’t have any examples of upstanding men who were Native.  And so I kind of hid that part of myself, and I pretended I wasn’t Native, because I kind of look a little bit like everything and nothing at the same time.  And so I would associate myself, within all my crowds of white dominant culture groups, I associated myself with the white crowd.  And I said, I’m white.  I’m white, you know, I’m not Native. But then I realized one day like I’m kind of denying myself of a little bit of who I am.  And I need to decide -- I decided that, at that time, to be what I wanted to see.  I didn’t want to wait for someone to tell me how to do it.

Gretchen Sagan

I’m Gretchen Sagan, an Inupiaq artist from Anchorage, Alaska. I had a traditional European art education with a strong background in printmaking, etching and lithography. After I returned to Alaska, I naturally transitioned into painting, which is what I do mostly now. Although my work is contemporary and abstract, there’s a strong element of it being grounded in the natural world.  In all of my work, I explore our connectedness and who I am in relation to the world. My Native heritage is intrinsic to my work, as it certainly defines who I am and how I see the world. I’m very sensitive to my environment and open to sensations of what is happening around me, and this is reflected in my work.  I guess when you look at it, you can see that it is formed by my curiosity, confusion and self discovery. And in the future, I hope to continue this artistic journey.  And I invite you to see my paintings and relate to them at whatever level they can connect with you. Thank you.

Holly Nordlum:

Hello.  My name is Holly Mititquq Nordlum.  I’m an Inupiaq visual artist. I’m originally from Kotzebue, Alaska.  We lived outside of town for a long time, just right outside of town.  But then my parents were dog mushers, so often we would spend winters at Schafer Creek in Anvik, which is 30 miles from Kotzebue.  So no running water.  I think we had a radio and lots of card playing.  And we would come back to Kotzebue for school here and there. My grandparents were there and that’s where I got a lot of my cultural experiences.  They did a lot of like gathering and processing of Native foods.  And, I mean, they lived at a camp so there wasn’t a lot available.  We used what was around us. So I draw upon that when I do my work now.  However, I’ve lived here in Anchorage now almost 20 years.  And I take both those worlds and kind of combine them in my work. I do printmaking, both block and screen printing.  And then I teach kids about that through the Anchorage School District. And then I do some sculpture work with beer bottle caps to talk about alcoholism. And then I recently took -- I think a year ago I took a class with Sonya Kelliher-Combs and she taught us the skin technique.  And so I’ve been doing a lot of painting, because it’s a gritty, amazing feel to the paintings when they’re completed.  So I’ve been doing that.

Joel Isaak: 

My name is Joel Isaak.  I’m an Dena’ina Athabascan artist and a Kenaitze Indian tribal member from the Kenai Peninsula. I make contemporary Native Alaskan sculpture.  I enjoy combining traditional materials like salmon skin, moose hides, birch bark, spruce roots, with more modern industrial materials like casperons, slumped glass, ceramic high-fired sculpture, and plastics and plaster. My work is largely comprised of installations as a finished product.  And I use material as a storytelling medium. I am intrigued by luminous materials like fish skin, glass and patinas, which makes the surface of artwork come to life with movement in the iridescent. I’m inspired by the majestic creation that we experience living in Alaska. Intergenerational learning is a driving force for me.  Starting with Elders and teaching youth allows me to be constantly learning, exploring new ideas, and experimenting and communicating with those around me. I hope to see a continuing rebirth of traditional learning break into education.  Education driven by combined disciplines like science and arts that develop new, exciting pathways for solution-based thinking.

Mike Mcintyre

My name is Mike McIntyre.  I’m from Bethel, Alaska, originally from Eek, Alaska. And I do a lot of art.  I’ve kind of dedicated some part of my life to doing a lot of art so in 100 years, 50 years, I’ll have something up there that could be hung or listened to or, you know, people know who it’s from.  I’d like to put something beautiful out there so it will be remembered forever. My parents, and my dad, and my uncles, my great grandma, you know, I kind of grew up into people who did art.  Later on in life, it just became part of me. Dad used to carve masks and stuff, do ivory carvings and I would just sit there and stare at like -- stare for hours just watching him make something. He gave me a little Yupik curve knife and I started making sharp sticks.  You know, that’s the first thing you start doing is making sharp sticks with the curve knife. And now after I grew up and became a man, I started doing it myself.  My kids started making sharp sticks so -- so hopefully in the future my kids, my sons, will be able to start carving masks just like me or my dad.

Perry Eaton: 

I am Perry Eaton.  I’m an Alutiiq Sugpiaq artist from Kodiak Island. The Land Claims Settlement in 1971 was maybe the most pivotal moment for all Natives in the state.  And it’s sort of from that point forward that you began to develop the pride and the identity in your cultural background.  It was something, when I was a kid, we just -- you know, you didn’t talk about it.  When, you know, Alvin Amason and I grew up in Kodiak there no Native art.  Not anything.  Not nothing.  Nothing.  The Nativeness was such a negative stigma that you -- you sort of pushed it away.  Well in 1971, you had to stand up and say well, yeah, I guess I’m one of those.  And from that moment forward, you began to think about what that meant.  And, of course, the more you think about it, the more you get into it.  And consequently, the more you enjoy your identity, and, of course, Alaska itself, and being Alutiiq.  I mean it was very, very important, and it was enlightening, and it was pivotal.  It’s probably the most important event in my life.

Wendell Brower

My name is Wendell Brower.  I was born in 1984 in Barrow, Alaska. I’ve always loved doing art.  It’s always just been a passion.  I’ve been doing it ever since I was just a young kid.  It just got to the point where some of my teachers noticed what I was doing, instead of doing my regular work, and they started sending me to art class. I don’t just do oil painting.  I actually was trained by one of my uncles to carve, and I do ivory carving as well.  I do baleen scrimshaw.  I used to do that all the time.  Where I really settled in is oil painting and trying to build upon my own painting, because you don’t see much Native artists doing oil painting.  That’s like a western thing or from a different culture.  But when you combine it with the background I have and then it becomes, I believe, something different, something special, because you don’t have too many Native artists doing that. But I really do enjoy painting and come back on my memories and trying to put it on an image and make it all colorful and beautiful. Artists sometimes will try to make a big piece that shows, you know, how they were brought up or what the kind of background they have.  And it kind of gives the world a taste of what their culture is like.  They could see through that, get a little glimpse of how we had to live. You know, I think that’s very important for people to understand what the Native culture is like.

Ryan Romer:

Hello.  I’m Ryan Romer.  I’m Yupik and Athabascan.  I rein from the Kuskokwim River area, from Bethel to Aniak. My artwork is inspired by a sense that, as an artist, I can make awareness brought to people that don’t know Alaska Native cultures through my contemporary paintings and photographs and printmaking that helps show that there is many levels to what we believe in, in a social structure, and how we comprehend that social structure with everyday happenings that’s beyond Native cultures. I mix those two thoughts into a medium, such as painting, printmaking and photography, that will help bring a total rendition of what my imagery and what my thought process is on how our cultures can, not collide, but rather be parallel amongst one another. So in order to better understand that, you would have to see my work and keep that thought in mind that it is to bring awareness and it is also to help those that are living it be much more faceted in our culture, to be a strong believer, and to help out anyway they can.