Juneau artist Anna Brown Ehlers receives top Rasmuson award for 2023

The master Chilkat weaver was also named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 2017.

Anna Brown Ehlers still remembers her early impressions of the art form she has made her life’s devotion.

Ehlers, a Juneau artist, has spent much of the past 30 years practicing the art of Chilkat weaving, an intricate form that has become an iconic cultural symbol for Tlingit people and other Indigenous groups from the Pacific Northwest.

“I was mesmerized,” she said. “Looking at it as a child, it was like a puzzle. I was just so intrigued by the designs.”

On Wednesday, Ehlers was named the Rasmuson Foundation’s 2023 Distinguished Artist.

The $50,000 award is intended to “honor an established artist of recognized stature who brings decades of creative excellence and accomplishment in the arts.”

Ehlers’ works have been shown at museums worldwide and she has received a number of other awards, grants and commendations, including being named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 2017.

Chilkat weavings have major ceremonial and cultural significance. The weaving can take on many applications but is often used in making garments, often worn by chiefs at potlatch ceremonies.

The preparation for the actual weaving is a monthslong process. Cedar is removed from trees and prepared into thin pliable strips. Wool, traditionally harvested from mountain goats, is also prepared before taking the final materials to the loom.


At first that process was laborious to Ehlers. Now she views it as a welcome respite.

“Now I look forward to it because it’s the downtime,” she said.

Ehlers said her work been a labor of love her entire family. She said there have been years where she’s been away at museums for over 10 months and her extended family allowed her to make those trips. She also garners inspiration from her children who have helped in the process since they were very young.

“My husband has really supported me all these years so I could devote that time,” she said. “Luckily my parents also lived in the same community.”

Ehlers most recent work is a massive killer whale piece that is the largest she’s ever produced. At eight feet wide and seven feet tall, it’s approximately the same dimensions as a newborn killer whale. Initially planned for 11 feet, Ehlers had the design put into a pattern in Anchorage. But when she returned she found it was too small for the loom she had already earmarked for the project.

“I went back to Juneau I taped all that paper together and it turned out to be eight feet instead of 11 feet,” she said. “And here I had all the warp on the loom already. I had to trim a foot and a half off each side.”

Her next major project is going to be significantly bigger in scale.

“I’ve always wanted to do things that nobody else would ever even try to accomplish,” she said.

One of the few masters currently working, Ehlers has also taken on the role of teacher. She recalled a class of 10 kids in Juneau and her pride when they completed their robes on a rare sunny day in Southeast when their attention could’ve been diverted.

“I just love it and now they’re all adults with their own children and teaching and their families and relatives,” she said. “It’s really great that long after I’m gone there will be weavers.”

Although she has been weaving for more than three decades, Ehlers said she is constantly learning from other artists including her daughter Marie, who often joins her on projects.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” she said. “I’ve learned from painters, I’ve learned from basket weavers, totem pole carvers and jewelers.”


The other awards announced Wednesday included $25,000 Fellowships for 10 artists or groups. Fellowships “allow mid-career and established artists to focus energy and attention for a one-year period of creative development,” the foundation said in a statement.

Fellowship recipients include:

Fellowship awards ($25,000)

Shgendootan George, Angoon, a series of four dance robes in distinct styles (Ravenstail, button blanket, cedar bark and Chilkat) to tell the history of the 1882 Navy bombing of Angoon.

Tiumaluali’i Jody Marie Hassel, Ester, a book-length memoir “To the Root: Recovery of a Samoan Princess in the Exile of Erasure.”

Ossie Kairaiuak, Anchorage by way of Chefornak, a performance titled “Ellanguarput: Our Pretend World” to celebrate Yup’ik ancestral traditions.

Nicolette Corbett, Bethel, and Katie O’Connor, Nome, Katurte — which means “to come together” is a collaboration between Corbett, a Yup’ik artist, and O’Connor, an Inupiaq artist.


Darlene Lind, Wasilla, a maquette of an Alaska Native healer as part of her artistic expression depicting her Alaska Native culture.

M. C. MoHagani Magnetek, Fairbanks, a stage play, “Just Add Water: Reparations for My Soul,” an examination of the lives of the unacknowledged women who portrayed Aunt Jemima on pancake and syrup packaging and advertising for over 125 years.

Robert K. Mills, Kake, working with local residents, the Forest Service and mill owners, Mills will build a traditional Tlingit tribal house — Kake’s first in more than 100 years.

Kathryn Rousso, Ketchikan, an exploration of her unique Sephardic Jewish heritage and cultural identity through intensive research, museum visits and travel.

Sankofa Dance Theatre – Alaska, Anchorage, Led by Misha Baskerville and Johnnie Wright, this African dance group will expand their knowledge of traditional African dance through workshops and conferences. Will also rent a dedicated workspace and purchase equipment.

Kunaq Marjorie Tahbone, Nome, will learn from local hunters how to hunt seal, expanding her knowledge of preparing seal meat and oil. She will also be processing seal hide to create maklaks and kamiks.


Twenty-five more artists and groups received Project Awards of $10,000 each. Those awards are designed to “support emerging, mid-career and established artists in specific, short-term projects.”

This year’s Project Award recipients include:

Project awards ($10,000)

Brian Adams, Anchorage, photographer

Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tova, Homer, musician

JaVeon Brigham, Fairbanks, musician

Lyndsey Brollini, Juneau, basketry and multimedia

Myesha Callahan Freet, Chugiak, documentarian

Jiin F. Chang, Anchorage, filmmaker


Rafael de la Uz, Homer, photographer

Christiana Galea’i, Anchorage, musician

Xochiyollotl Carrow Harbison, Homer, ceramic artist

Wasabi/Sharla Hausmann, Point Lay, Kaltag and Anchorage, musician

Young Kim, Anchorage, photographer

William Kozloff, Palmer, graphic novelist

Danielle D. Larsen, King Cove, Beaver and Anchorage, visual artist

Kristin Link, McCarthy, field sketch artist

Alma Manabat Parker, Ketchikan, Filipino folk dance artist

Betany Porter, Anchorage, sculptor

Ashley R. Powe, King Cove and North Pole, novelist

Mistee St. Clair, Juneau, poet

Shoko Takahashi, Anchorage, silkscreen artist

MK Thekkumkattil, Anchorage, nonfiction essayist

Emily Wall, Douglas, poet

Annie Wenstrup, Fairbanks, poet

‘Wáats’asdiyei Joe Yates, Craig and Anchorage, media arts

Kinsie Young, Hydaburg and Anchorage, weaver

Itzel Zagal, Anchorage, poet

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.