An approximately 18 by six foot traditional Tlingit welcome figure is set to adorn Fort Seward. Haines artist Jim Heaton is carving the yellow cedar panel for the Alaska Arts Confluence’s Fort Seward Sculpture Garden. Fifteen Haines artists are creating works for the outdoor art project.
Heaton was adzing the back of the wood panels on a December morning.
“Basically every project is started with an adze, whether it’s a mask or a canoe or a panel like this, you use the adze,” he said.
Heaton plans to carve a traditional Tlingit-style welcome figure on the front of the panel — a face and two outstretched arms.
“The nice thing about this type of work is it was developed as an art form,” Heaton said. “If you were wealthy enough and you needed something special for a party or a potlatch, you would commission someone else to carve something for you. Part of the tradition was, you couldn’t carve something special yourself, you had to pay someone to do it, which developed that economy based on producing really nice things.”
Heaton says he feels he’s keeping that tradition alive by doing commissioned work. He enjoys trying to tell a story with each piece he creates.
“That’s kind of going back to tradition of what the art form was developed for. It was the written language for the people in this area. A totem pole is a notebook, it’s telling a story or recounting a history. So there was always a very good reason for doing something like this.”
With the figure he’s carving now, Heaton hopes to demonstrate an action.
“Welcome. Welcome to Haines, welcome to the valley, welcome to the sculpture garden. You know, kind of a beacon saying ‘you’re welcome, come on in.'”
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