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Rasmuson Foundation announces 2018 award winners; Alvin Amason named ‘distinguished artist’

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: May 14, 2018
  • Published May 11, 2018

Alvin Amason has been awarded the Rasmuson Distiguished Artist award for 2018. (Photo by Jenny Irene Miller)

Prominent Sugpiaq/Alutiiq painter and sculptor Alvin Eli Amason won the "distinguished artist" award for 2018, an honor that comes with $40,000, the Rasmuson Foundation announced Friday.

Amason is from Kodiak and is known for his large, colorful paintings of Alaska wildlife, which often emerge from the canvas with three-dimensional elements. Three of his paintings — an enormous bear flanked by depictions of an eagle, a plane and other elements of maritime life — occupy an entire wall that is a focal point of the Anchorage Museum's Art of the North gallery.

"I paint Alaskan animals of today," Amason said in the Rasmuson Foundation announcement. "I'm glad I have my heritage, but I don't want to rely on it. Culture just doesn't work if it is put on a shelf, in a jar, in a museum. It is a living thing. Time goes on and cultural elements change."

Amason's works are featured in the permanent collections of institutions including the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, the Rasmuson Foundation wrote.

Amason was director of Native Arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1992 until 2009. He then joined the art department at the University of Alaska Anchorage to develop an Alaska Native arts curriculum and studio, according to UAA's website.

Alvin Eli Amason’s colorful paintings occupy a wall that’s one of the focal points of The Anchorage Museum’s new Rasmuson Wing. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive)

Amason is the 15th distinguished artist named by the Rasmuson Foundation; the award is intended to recognize "mature, established artists" who have created an extensive independent body of work, according to their website, where you can find a complete list of awardees.

In addition to the distinguished artist award, the Rasmuson Foundation also awarded 10 fellowships ($18,000 each) and 25 project awards ($7,500 each). Recipients were selected from a pool of almost 400 applicants.

Here's the complete list (project descriptions have been edited for length; see the full descriptions at

Fellowships ($18,000)

Classical guitarist Armin Abdihodzic of Anchorage will purchase a handmade instrument from renowned California luthier Gregory Byers. He will travel to California, Texas and Virginia to study with contemporary composers for guitar.

Photographer Brian Adams of Anchorage will travel to Canada, Greenland and Russia to document the lives of Inuit people through portraiture and photo essays for his second book, "I am Inuit."

Composer Dolores Catherino of Anchorage plans to create and document a major musical work in what she terms a "polychromatic musical language," a system she developed. She also plans to upgrade her equipment, pursue training and attend an international conference.

Filmmaker Susan Stark Christianson of Juneau will interview indigenous elders in Alaska, the Lower 48 and Canada for a new documentary on preservation of tribal knowledge and the relevance of traditional prophesy stories to today's world.

Multimedia artist Nicholas Galanin of Sitka will purchase and fabricate the equipment and tools needed to create a large body of sculptural copper work using traditional Tlingit chasing and repoussé metalworking techniques.

Painter Mary Ida Henrikson of Ward Cove will use the Tongass National Forest for inspiration in creating at least 20 new oil paintings.

Filmmaker and photographer Mary Rosanne Katzke of Anchorage is undertaking a multimedia storytelling project using environmental portrait photography, videos, social media and live presentations to document and share grassroots youth movements.

Visual artist Susan Joy Share of Anchorage will create a body of work exploring the intersection of built and natural environments in Alaska, using custom paper, photographic pop-up structures, and dynamic book properties such as hinges and layers.

New genre artist Allison Akootchook Warden of Anchorage will travel to research an upcoming multimedia exhibition that recreates historic images in a collaboration with photographer Brian Adams.

Composer Rick Zelinsky of Anchorage will create a new album consisting of jazz, electronic music and Alaska nature sounds for solo saxophones and rhythm.

Project awards ($7,500)

Author Christiane Joy Allison of Wasilla will create, publish and distribute the second in a series of picture books for children trying to understand what is happening to family members who are incarcerated or involved in the justice system.

Master weaver Delores Churchill of Ketchikan will hire a videographer to film her demonstrating techniques for more than 22 basketry endings.

Performance artist Roblin Gray Davis of Juneau will create and perform a new solo show in the style of the contemporary theatrical clown, exploring themes around being a lifelong Alaskan.

Composer and musician Jacob Dee of Anchorage will produce and distribute a full-length studio album and go on tour in Washington and Oregon to promote the project.

Playwright Merry C. Ellefson of Douglas will develop a performance piece inspired by the story of a man lost on an ice floe for 18 days in 1949.

Traditional artist David Gerard of Homer will purchase tools and travel to study with a master luthier. He will build a new instrument, either an Irish bouzouki or an octave mandolin.

Traditional artist Ana Gutierrez-Scholl of Anchorage will chronicle the Anchorage-based Mexican folkloric dance troupe Xochiquetzal-Tiqun. The project will include a printed instruction guide featuring 10 of the regional dance forms performed by the troupe.

Traditional artist Glenn "Stormy" Hamar of Kasaan will purchase tools and materials and build a large canoe in the historic Haida style.

Fiber artist Abigail Kokai of Homer will document the community of travelers on the Alaska Marine Highway System through illustrated quilts about individual experiences.

Sound artist Paul Andrew Lawrence of Anchorage intends to master the technical challenges of mixing in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. He will purchase equipment and prepare the final sound mix for the feature documentary "The Boneyard."

Media artist Noah Lincoln of Toksook Bay will purchase editing equipment and produce a compilation of short videos exploring emotional situations ranging from teen issues, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide in genres ranging from drama to comedy.

Carver Alison Marks of Juneau plans to develop her skill in two-dimensional or relief carving. She will carve a bentwood box that would be the first of its kind in Yakutat in more than 100 years to give to Yakutat Tlingit people at a traditional potlatch.

Visual artist Kim McNett of Homer will refine her use of color by working in watercolor, colored pencil and other mixed media. She will attend workshops, illustrate a nature journal and produce final works using the themes of wild botanicals, marine life, birds and coastal landscapes.

Traditional artist Robert Mills of Kake will travel to study Northwest transformation masks in museum collections in the U.S. and British Columbia. He will create a new transformation mask that builds on the historic form, and make it available for performance with a new song.

Choreographer Katie O'Loughlin of Anchorage will travel to Havana, Cuba to study with DanzAbierta, a professional modern dance company. She will create original choreography based on her training there.

Theater sound designer Lucy Peckham of Anchorage will study state-of-the-art sound design and mixing technology through travel to professional conferences in New York, Las Vegas and Louisville, and by bringing professional trainers to Anchorage.

Photographer Charlotte Peterson of Fairbanks will purchase a new camera lens and computer and will travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a professional photography workshop.

Weaver Ricky Tagaban of Juneau will establish a studio outside his home and process mountain goat wool he has been collecting since 2013. He will begin weaving a Chilkat robe to replicate an artifact from his father's clan.

Visual artist Colleen Firmin Thomas of Fairbanks works with modern sewing techniques and traditional Gwich'in Athabaskan materials and methods in her paintings. She will prepare 20 new paintings for an upcoming solo show.

Vocalist Sydnee Waggoner of Anchorage will continue her operatic training and take advantage of performance opportunities in Europe, with a base in Prague.

Poet Emily Wall of Douglas will research and write a chapbook of persona poems based on Georgia O'Keeffe.

Composer Zak Dylan Wass of Sitka will purchase new computer equipment that will allow him to produce his first album of original music.

Visual artist Amber R. Webb of Anchorage will complete a large qaspeq covered with ink portraits of nearly 400 missing or murdered indigenous women, with supplementary Yup'ik designs.

Traditional artist Sarah Whalen-Lunn of Anchorage will travel to Unalakleet, Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope and Utqiaġvik to research traditional tattoo designs, teach community workshops on cultural tattooing and provide tattoos in traditional styles.

Traditional artist Peter Williams of Sitka will construct a shed and purchase equipment and supplies that will allow him to process and tan hides from seals and sea otters that he hunts and uses to produce wearable art.

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