Tlingit artist Wayne Price teaches a formline design class sponsored by SHI in Haines. (Emily Files)

Tlingit artist Wayne Price teaches a formline design class sponsored by SHI in Haines. (Emily Files)

By Greta Mart/KHNS

A series of classes introducing students to the Northwest Native art style known as formline is wrapping up this week in Skagway. But interest in the class was such that organizers are planning to host more in the future.

Buster Shepard says when he heard the Skagway Traditional Council was hosting a free formline class, he signed right up.

“I like to make drums but I don’t know how to draw. So the formline was a way of learning how to draw and then put in on the drum,” said Shepard.

Shepard broke out his current project to explain what he’s learned so far.


“This is what we did last night… and this is the beginning ovoid that I started with, and then I started to work from that. That’s what you get. I have empty spaces still but those I can fill in,” Shepard said.

Over the past month, Shepard and 24 fellow art students attended formline classes taught by Tlingit master carver and artist Wayne Price. Price lives in Haines, but has been working lately with the Skagway Museum on a canoe project. When Tribal Administrator Sarah Kinjo-Hisher heard Price was visiting Skagway regularly and then he offered to teach formline classes there…

“We said yes, please!,”  said Kinjo-Hisher.

Formline classes open to the public are a new offering at the Traditional Council. At first, Kinjo-Hisher says she wasn’t sure if there would be enough community interest. Was she taken aback by the demand?

“Yes! I was surprised. Because I was just trying to make sure we fill a class to make it feasible to happen…but there was such a want from the community to join,”  Kinjo-Hisher said.

In a recent interview in Haines, Price explained how the classes began.

“We started here in Haines, it’s actually a brand-new class that was created here with the Chilkoot Indian Association and it caught on so well, and now it’s branched to Skagway and gained a lot of momentum. I think the cross cultural connection between both towns is very good,” said Price.

Price says he learned the art form in Haines.

“I started here, in Karl Heinmiller’s Alaska Indian Arts in 1972. In fact, in this building I now own, is  where the AIA used to be…now it’s been turned into a shop and course we’re doing that canoes and paddles and designs right out of my own now. So it’s kind of…evolved,” Price said.

According to the textbook Learning by Designing, formline is based on the principal that a creature’s shape or form and its main parts can be represented by a continuous two-dimensional outline called the primary formline. Inside these primary lines are secondary lines representing animal body parts or decorative design elements.

“All the northwest coast designs are done in that manner and it’s been going on for a long time. It’s something that’s been passed down one generation to the next and it’s still with us today and it still works. And now I have an opportunity to pass on some of what I’ve learned to a whole new bunch of students to learn,” Price explained.

Shepard, one of the Skagway students, says the class was great for anyone interested in art.

Oh, I’d highly recommend it, Wayne Price is actually good and calming to work with, he not only shows you how to draw but he drums and sings for ya…does all kinds of stuff,” Shepard said.

Kinjo-Hisher says that for those who missed out on the July classes shouldn’t worry.

“We definitely plan on offering some type – whether it’s formline or formline design on a paddle – something of that nature will definitely be happening again,” said Kinjo-Hisher.

“I think with the momentum that has been gained with the drawing class we’re doing now, that the chances for another class are really very good. If the…being anxious to learn is there, then we seem to be able to find a way to make a class and put it together,” Price said.

Formline classes in Haines are scheduled through August. They are sponsored through the Chilkoot Indian Association. They take place Monday evenings at 6 p.m. at the public library.