When it comes to art-making and expression of personal vision and cultural belonging, the idea of competition is always incongruous. The coming of the Coronavirus and need to shelter in place added a highly unexpected level of difficulty for the artists who submitted their work, as well as for the jurors. Our deepest thanks to all for their willingness and courage to move with us through this process and convert the competition to a fully online exhibition.
A special gunalchéesh, háw’aa, t’oyaxsn to our artists. It is an honor to be allowed to share your many hours of painstaking work at the 2020 Sealaska Heritage Juried Art Show.
For the 2020 show, artists competed in five divisions: carving and sculpture (wood, metal, other media); 2D and relief carving (relief carving, painting, printmaking); sewing (regalia, skin and fur, beadwork); weaving (Chilkat-inspired, Ravenstail, basketry); and endangered art (spruce root basketry, horn spoon). The competition used a blind judging method, meaning that judges were not provided with any information that could identify the artists.
“We feel very humbled by the responsibility to select from this magnificent selection of entries. As artists ourselves, we always find it difficult to pass judgement on the heartfelt and laboriously rendered work of others. Each piece represents an individual path, reflective of the past, present, and future of the artists’ lives and careers. Their experiences and aspirations are reflected in each object, and there is so much to admire in the concepts expressed as well as in the execution. Some artists focus on achieving the level of perfection seen in ancient formline art. Some artists focus on developing consistency in the preparation and handling of materials—the splitting of roots and bark and adzing of flat surfaces become an art in and of themselves. Some artists ground themselves in tradition and use it as a launching pad to develop new themes and techniques….emulating the art of the past and following the tradition of innovation. Whichever path is taken, the results as seen in this year’s selection are diverse and reflective of the power of Northwest Coast art and the greatness of the cultures that produce it.
With the decision to make this year’s show a virtual exhibit came the great challenge of selecting work based only on photographs. The judging criteria usually involves a close examination of details and finishing work; we can hold, lift, and turn the objects in front of us and experience firsthand their true power. This year, we had to work from the images provided—which in many cases didn’t convey every answer we would have liked to have. But even while looking at pixels on a screen, the power of certain pieces stood out, and these became our award winners. Making these decisions was difficult, and every piece in the show adds something in the millennia-old history of Native art on the northern Northwest Coast. Each artist is commended for their hard work and dedication toward learning and making art. Thank you for allowing us to take in the beautiful expressions of your lives in the culture.”
— Jurors Debbie Head-Aanutein and Steve Henrikson
Deborah Head, or Aanutein, is a lifelong resident of Craig, Alaska. She is the niece of Klawock Elder Dr. Bill Demmert, Jr., and Native culture has always been at the center of her family’s life. The winner of a 2011 Rasmuson Fellowship award and a Smithsonian Institution Visiting Artist participant, Aanutein is a highly regarded cedar bark weaver with award-winning pieces represented in museum collections as well as in private and cultural ownership. In 2008, Debbie was chosen to weave the cedar mat for the interior of a bentwood cedar burial box made by Jon Rowan for the historic interment of archaeological remains of the 10,300-year-old Native hunter Shuká Kaa or “Man Before Us.” That marked the first time archaeologists worked with Native groups to return significant remains for a culturally-appropriate burial.
Coming from both Tlingit and Haida cultures, she is grateful for the foundation of culture and tradition that was given to her in her early years, as Elders and other knowledgeable community members shared what they knew. Today, her work as a teacher with universities continues to light her way for learning and inspiration.
Steve Henrikson has served as curator of collections at the Alaska State Museum and adjunct instructor at the University of Alaska Southeast for more than a quarter century. In 1986, he came to Alaska as a seasonal curator at Sitka National Historical Park during a break from graduate studies at the University of Washington. Previously, he earned degrees in history and anthropology from Portland State University. Henrikson’s work and life keep him deeply engaged with Alaska art and artists, with history and history makers, and with cultures and their descendants. He preserves, researches, develops, and exhibits Alaska’s permanent collection—30,000 historical and cultural artifacts and artwork.
Henrikson is an adopted member of the Dakl’aweidí clan (Killer Whale clan) of the Angoon Tlingit and participates in clan ceremonies. He was the 2016 winner of the Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities.