Alaska artist John Hoover dead at 91 in Washington

Cordova-born artist transformed Native imagery into internationally exhibited contemporary art

September 5, 2011 

"Volcano Woman" by artist John Hoover stands in the Egan Center. The two sculptures in the Egan lobby were the first Native Alaskan pieces in the municipal 1 percent for Art program, said curator Jocelyn Young. The woman surrounded by cormorants is Hoover's interpretation of an Aleut creation myth.

MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

John Hoover, one of Alaska's most revered artists, died in Washington state on Saturday morning. He was 91.

Hoover was born in Cordova on Oct. 13, 1919. His father was Dutch and his mother Aleut-Russian.

Hoover took imagery and tales from various Alaska Native traditions and transformed them into striking contemporary art. His work was highly prized by collectors, corporations and museums. He exhibited around the world but was particularly appreciated in his home state, where his large sculptural work adorns such facilities as the Egan Civic and Convention Center, the Alaska Native Medical Center and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, all in Anchorage.

Art did not become a career for Hoover until relatively late in life. He was one of the first ski instructors at Sun Valley in Idaho and a commercial fisherman back in Alaska.

Between fishing seasons in 1960, he built a 58-foot seiner in his backyard in Cordova "without much in the way of power tools," he told the Daily News in a 1998 interview. When he was finished, he realized that what he had done was much like sculpture and he turned to art.

The iconic yet lively look of the pieces he created, often using a kind of bas-relief on carved wood, sometimes with a hinged or mobile aspect, rapidly gained a following. He moved to a quaint bungalow on Puget Sound near Grapeview, Wash., where he lived with his wife, Mary, until his death.

Shortly after the 1998 interview, Hoover suffered heart problems that led to triple-bypass surgery and increasingly limited his work and travel.

In 2002, the Anchorage Museum held a major retrospective of his work. Curator Julie Decker used the catalog to write an illustrated biography and appreciation of the artist, "John Hoover: Art and Life."

In May of this year, the University of Alaska Anchorage awarded him an honorary doctorate. His daughter Anna, also an artist, curated a show at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in August that included some of her father's work.

His original "art" piece, the fishing boat Aldebaran, was still a working vessel based in Port Townsend at last report.

Hoover is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughter Anna of Washington, daughters Martha Vlasoff and Jane Allen of Cordova, daughter Grace Hoover of Anchorage, and sons Mark and Tony Hoover of Cordova. He was previously married to Barbara Hoover of Cordova.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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