Artist Norman Jackson (Tlingit) shows one of his masks to Denali Montessori Elementary students. Photo by Wayde Carroll, courtesy of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center.
For millennia, walrus ivory tusks have been carved into forms essential to Arctic life, from harpoon heads and needles, to hunting charms and figures that evoke spiritual connections and ancestry.
Three carvers who carry on this tradition — Jerome Saclamana of Nome, Levi Tetpon of Shaktoolik, and Clifford Apatiki of Gambell — came to the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center for a weeklong residency in April 2016. Hosted in the Living Our Cultures gallery, these accomplished artists demonstrated their work in this important cultural form and material, combining traditional with innovative and experimental techniques that were shared with students, visitors, curators and conservators.
Material Traditions is sponsored by the Surdna Foundation, CIRI Foundation, Smithsonian Council for Arctic Studies, and Alaska State Council on the Arts.
Whistles, rattles, and clappers summon spirits and echo their voices during the dances and ceremonies of the Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska. Carved from red or yellow cedar, these traditional instruments blend distinctive musical sounds with complex forms. Master carvers John Hudson (Tsimshian), Norman Jackson (Tlingit), and Donald Varnell (Haida) demonstrated how these instruments are made and share knowledge of their cultural meanings during the Voices from Cedar artists’ residency at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in October, 2016. The artists taught students and compared their own work to historical examples in the Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage exhibition on the second floor of the museum’s west wing.