Four self-directed, six-month-long mentorship opportunities pair Alaska Native artists with mentees in traditional, physically tangible art forms. Artists were selected by Bunnell from the pool of artists participating in and working on projects for Bunnell’s national touring exhibition, Protection: Adaptation and Resistance. The mentorships explore construction of traditional regalia and garments with support from The CIRI Foundation.
TCF Mentorship Descriptions:
Mentor artist Bobby Lynn Itta is teaching skin sewing and regalia to Bonnie Scheele. Bonnie lives in Anchorage and owns a small business named Twenty Mile Trading Company where she creates jewelry out of reindeer antler. Bonnie is a reindeer herder and is Inupiaq from Nome. She wil learn to make a parka. Bobby Itta is Inupiaq from Utqiagvik and has been sewing parkas for 18 years. She is the designer and owner of Arctic Luxe and Alaska Fur Cache. Arctic Luxe is a brand that promotes and sells handmade indigenous clothing and accessories. Bobby believes it is very important to teach these skills because traditional skin sewing is a dying art. There are very few that know how to make parkas, and it is important to teach and share this knowledge.
Jennifer Younger is a Lingit artist and designer who is learning the skills of Lingit regalia construction from Carol Hughey, an apparel designer with extensive textile skills who was adopted into the Kiks.ádi Clan. Hughey has worked in collaboration with Lingit tribal citizens to create contemporary at.óow (ceremonial sacred objects). Younger and Hughey will create a protest robe in the Lingit tradition of the shaming totem pole. The robe will express outrage over the destructive commercial Sacro Herring fishery that violates the Sovereign rights of the tribal citizens. They will unveil this robe at the Alaska Board of Fisheries hearings in Ketchikan Alaska in January 2022. The robe will be dedicated and danced at herring celebrations for many generations to come. The early years of the robe will protes extracted fishing practices. The artists hope the robe’s later years will celebrate their respect for all things over commercial exploitation
Marlene Nielson, a Yup’ik artist from from Kokhanok, on the south shore of Lake Iliamna, is self-taught in the art of making baskets, wallets, and jewelry with sockeye salmon skin. Salmon skin art was seen as a lost skill in her area which inspired her to reintroduce the rare technique by teaching students. Nielsen has been creating art with fish skin since 2002 and has completed a 2017 IAIA Artist-in-Residence. Nielson mentors Yup’ik artist Peter Williams, a Yup’ik culture bearer, artist, designer, filmmaker, and educator originally from Akiak currently based in Sheet’ká (Sitka, Alaska). His hand-sewn works repurpose skin from self-harvested traditional foods, bridging worlds of Indigenous art, fashion, and subsistence. The mentorship focuses on researching and documenting traditional Yup’ik fish skin tanning and sewing techniques using natural materials, stitches and methodologies in the creation of a fish skin hood. Through collaborating with Elders, other artists and museums where there are information gaps, the project aims to disseminate traditional knowledge to future generations of Alaska Natives through video, photography, audio recording, written text, experimentation, process-oriented research, bark tanning and hand-sewing object creation.
Mentor artist Lily Hope leads her apprentice Sydney Akagi through weaving a child-sized Chilkat dancing blanket, inspired by one in the Alaska State Museum. The time together will focus on technical mastery of ﬁber spinning and dyeing, warping up the ﬁrst rows, weaving black and yellow borders, inserting drawstrings, negotiating design adaptations, interlocking colors, braid insertion, dropping warps, properly curving the bottom border, and weaving side braids. The skills learned by the apprentice ensure she retains all skills needed to weave a full-size Chilkat dancing blanket. In addition to techniques, Hope and Akagi will focus on spiritual aspects including gratitude prayers, daily family and home care practices, and energetic surrender to the work. In this way, the apprentice can teach her daughter(s) and nieces to weave with the Chilkat teachings fully intact.
Thank you to The CIRI Foundation for funding these mentorships.
Sydney Akagi (Tlingit/Japanese)
Irene Lampe (Tlingit)
Photographs courtesy of
Sydney Akagi and Lily Hope