Native art reflects traditions, new media and techniques

This is the closing weekend of the juried art show from Celebration 2012. Thirty-two pieces from twenty-one artists include the high-water mark of craftsmanship in Northwest Coast art. There are also pieces that go outside the boundaries of what is considered traditional art with new forms or techniques.

The art competition was held in conjunction with Celebration, the biennial Native dance event and the largest Native culture gathering in Southeast Alaska. It was held in Juneau in early June. The art show, organized and sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, is intended to encourage art creation and development.

In previous years, submissions were divided into two categories, traditional and contemporary. Masks and woven baskets would fit into the former category, while glass work would be in the latter, for example. But what is new or contemporary, or non-traditional art, may itself become traditional as more artists pick up on a change in medium, form, or a new technique.

This year, judges for the competition were told to dispense with the old categories. Instead, artwork was judged in the areas of customary or customary-inspired Northwest Coast art.

Renowned Ketchikan carver Nathan Jackson judged the customary category. He says he looks for a well-thought out concept or idea, and complete symmetry. He also looks for paint application, clean cuts, and type of wood selected.

Peter Corey, Northwest art scholar and a former curator at Sheldon Jackson museum, judged customary-inspired art. He describes Northwest Coast art as strong with the formline design that appears to be pushing its bounds, the predominate and contrasting red and black, and blue and green in recessed areas. But that’s changed a little recently.

In the Customary category, Archie Cavanaugh won first place with his Eagle Man Mask, Sonya Koenig-Johnson’s Spruce Root Hat came in second, and third place went to Ruby Hughes for her vest titled Woodworm Woman.

Sealaska Heritage officials say Koenig-Johnson only took up weaving during an instructional program in Hoonah six years ago.

Cavanaugh called his winning mask meant to symbolize a transformation from eagle to man a hard and complicated project. He started by visualizing the project, and making sure the form lines and symmetry are just right.

In the Customary-Inspired Art category, Harmony Hoss won first place for her Beaver Purse, Clarissa Rizal was second for her Argillite Totem, and Shgen DooTan George took third with her Woven Octopus Bag.

Rizal says her art was inspired by a dream. She used charcoal on canvas that is then wrapped around a custom built totem. The light spaces simulate the reflected light shining off argillite and the dark charcoal the carved areas.

George entered a Chilkat apron with cedar bark backing and button blanket that drew on traditions from the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido. But it was her experiment of woven Raven’s tail and cut out copper pieces for the octopus bag that caught the judges eye.

Cash prizes of a $1,000, $750, and $500 were awarded to the top three in each category.

Best of show award of $1,500 went to Arthur Nelson for his Raven Bowl.

All of the artwork selected for the Celebration 2012 juried art show are on display at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center through June.

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