Colleen Firmin Thomas and Les & Janelle Matz, August 2019
Colleen Firmin Thomas is Gwich’yaa Gwich’in from Fort Yukon, Alaska. She studied printmaking and painting at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She lives with her family in Fairbanks, Alaska. She works with modern sewing techniques and traditional Gwich’in Athabascan materials and methods in her mixed-media paintings.
” My work is an exploration of living in the space between two cultures. I grew up in the Gwich’in community of Fort Yukon and in Fairbanks. As a child these two communities often seemed to represent two opposing worlds; my Gwich’in culture and my non-native Western culture. I often struggled to reconcile the two and my place in them. I am aware that I’m not the only person living in a middle area and I hope my work speaks to all who know what it’s like to live in those less defined areas. My relationship to each culture is in constant flux as I have new experiences: have children, get older, lose loved ones and see the changes to cultures themselves. I see my paintings as fluid as well, they feel alive and the possibility they may change or grow is always present.
Working with traditional Gwich’in sewing materials and other elements from nature allows me to show the influence of my two cultures. I choose materials that bring feelings of comfort, home, care and belonging.
While painting this body of work I thought a lot about restoration in a spiritual, relational and mental sense but it translated into paintings as I considered how I use the elements. Sometimes things are not meant to be put back together in the same way. Sometimes they never return to their original form and instead are reassembled in an entirely new way and that is also a form of restoration. We can take the pieces of what we’ve been given and make them into something entirely our own. We can make our own creation or write our own story.”
Les & Janelle Matz
Metalsmith Les Matz continues his line of jewelry forms done in partnership with his wife Janelle Matz. Les creates the armatures out of old bicycle spokes, and Janelle covers the forms with prepared fishskin. These light and intriguing forms speak to the cycles of fish, planets, and leaves. Additionally, these materials are in their second and new life, another concept of re-cycling.
The Matzes began working in fishskin after attending a workshop with the late Fran Reed, after which they created small sculptures from fishskin and metal. Although Janelle has studied fishskin processing from cultures around the word, the original way of repeated scraping and working quickly with the wet skin has remained the most exciting. The forming of the drying skin around an armature created to utilize the beauty of the material is unique. They enjoyed the challenge to make their work smaller and wearable.