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Emerging Alaska Native artists get schooled on a new medium

Trina Landlord
Loren Holmes photo

A group of five emerging Alaska Native artists will be featured for First Friday during the months of August and September at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation in downtown Anchorage. Through their artwork, they seek new and innovative ways to tell traditional Alaska Native stories through contemporary visual means. The five artists were selected for a six-day advanced jewelry-making workshop where they delved into the intricacies and complexities of working with silver as a new art form.

Instructor and Master Artist Nicholas Galanin, an internationally acclaimed Tlingit/Aleut artist from Sitka, worked alongside his brother and co-instructor Jerrod Galanin. Nicholas has struck an intriguing balance between his origins and the course of his practice. He was trained extensively in both traditional and contemporary approaches to art, and now pursues them both on parallel paths. His works simultaneously preserve his culture and explore new artistic territory.

Galanin received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in jewelry design and silversmithing at London Guildhall University in England. He attended Massey University in New Zealand and earned a Master’s degree there in Indigenous Visual Arts. Galanin’s empowering and sought-after work has been exhibited around the world. Jerrod is also a talented singer/songwriter and artist as well Emergency Medical Technician.

Among the emerging artists that participated in the workshop were Allie High (Aleut/Haida/Tsimshian), Eve Mendehall (Inupiat), Norman Natkong, Jr. (Haida), Benjamin Schleifman (Tlingit) and Robin Lovelace-Smith (Tagish/Tlingit). The artists had to undergo a rigorous application and selection process to be accepted into the workshop.

Artist Robin Lovelace-Smith was able to explore metal sculpting with Nicholas using old world techniques of engraving and repousse, and found both challenging and enlightening.

“New media and new tools forced me to disregard preconceived notions of how to approach metal smithing,” Lovelace-Smith said. “There is a certain level of comfort in working material that I am familiar with, such as wood -- which I can read the grain and see how it needs to be approached -- while stone has its unique characteristics. Metal work hardens with every blow, forcing the molecules closer and closer together, but can be returned to a workable state through applying heat, as well as the ability to push the material from both sides to achieve the desired effect for the design. I am just getting a feel for the tools and techniques, but I relish work that requires time to develop.”

Other artists also praised the workshop. Allie High said it was a positive environment for learning, and it was an honor to work with Nicholas, as a longtime admirer of his work and that learning these new skills inspired her to look at her own heritage and identity and how it relates to her work. Allie went on to say she has been working in Silversmithing off an on for years and was grateful for the opportunity to further her skills.

Additionally, the five artists learned through presentations, lectures, discussions, safety training and marketing from established Alaska Native artists, such as Alutiiq mask carver/photographer, Perry Eaton and painter/sculptor Alvin Amason.

The public will be able to view the results of the Master Artist Workshop at the First Friday downtown artwalks during both August and September, at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. Each artist will showcase four pieces: one silver piece that shows the craftsmanship demonstrating what they learned from the workshop and three in the mediums they normally work.

Trina Landlord is the Executive Director of the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. She can be reached at trina(at)alaskanativearts.org.