Sealaska Heritage Institute is working to strengthen Northwest Coast art in Southeast Alaska. Right now, SHI representatives are touring ten communities to gather ideas from local people about enhancing Native arts. That’s happening in conjunction with an initiative that sponsors formline design classes in Southeast.
Tlingit master carver Wayne Price was the teacher for a SHI-sponsored formline class in Haines last week. He taught about a dozen locals in the traditional artwork of Northwest Coast Natives.
Formline design is the distinguishing feature of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artwork. It describes the curving lines that create shapes you see in carvings, weavings, and drawings
Price told his students about the first time he saw carvers using formline design.
“I didn’t have a clue what it meant but I knew I really liked it,” he said. “It wasn’t too long for me to figure out it was going to be the destiny of my life. 45 years later I have had not one day of regret.”
Price talked about how Native culture, including art, was suppressed and decimated by outside settlers throughout the 19th and 20th century.
“This is what we have to come back from,” he said. “But guess what people, we’re going to. And believe it or not, it starts right here.”
Price said, right now, there’s a cultural resurgence happening.
“Natives are starting to figure out we don’t have to ask no more. We can do it,” Price said. “Nobody is stopping us from learning our culture no more. It’s a new time now.”
SHI is trying to further that resurgence. Three years ago, they received a grant to establish Jineit Art Academy. Part of the academy’s efforts focused on teaching formline to schoolteachers and upcoming Native artists. Price’s workshop in Haines was one of the last in that three-year effort.
SHI Art Director Kari Groven was there for it.
“Any way that we can perpetuate Northwest Coast arts regionally is kind of what we’re going for,” she said.
Groven and her colleagues are traveling to ten towns in Southeast to ask residents what they think their community needs to enhance Northwest Coast art and artists.
A handful of Haines residents gathered at the Chilkoot Indian Association Friday to talk about it.
“Through Tlingit arts you can start bringing language in, stories, oral tradition,” said artist John Hagen. “You can bring back traditional ways of learning too. I think arts are very important.”
Hagen said there’s a need for more artist workshops and business help for people hoping to make a living from their artwork.
The group also talked about the idea of a Native artist market in Haines. Some suggested it could piggyback off of one of Haines’ big events, like the Southeast Alaska State Fair or Kluane Bike Race.
“I think we could build an event in our community that was around the culture and the art,” said Cheri Price. “And it could be an event not to be missed.”
Groven says the meeting in Haines reinforced to her that there’s a need. A need for more workshops like the formline design one, a need for business advice for local artists, a need for master-apprentice partnerships.
Groven and her colleagues will visit the other communities that are part of the art academy initiative before making any final decisions. That includes Angoon, Craig, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat.
If you have suggestions about how Northwest Coast art could be enhanced in Haines or in Southeast as a whole, contact Groven at Kari.Groven@sealaska.com.