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Suumacirpet (Our Way of Living: Sugcestun) Exhibit and Talks, July 2024

Bunnell Street Arts Center presents Suumacirpet (Our Way of Living: Sugcestun), Anĝaĝiisingin (The way we live: Unangam Tunuu), Yuuyaraput (Our way of life: Yup’ik), uaptiktun inniguq (Doing things Our Way: Inupiaq), Ye’uh qach’dalts’iyi ‘what we live on from the outdoors: Dena’ina) opening on July 5th, 2024 at Bunnell Street Arts Center. Skin Sewing Discussion with artists Saturday, July 6, 5 pm.

“In Alaska we are surrounded by abundance. For over ten thousand years, Indigenous people have inhabited these lands, caring for the wild resources that surround us so that they in turn will sustain our communities. Knowing how to make use of local resources was and is a way of surviving and being in good relation to this place. This is a way of being that has been maintained over time through subsistence cycles and place-based practices that are contingent upon taking good care of the resources that surround us. This is our way of living.

This exhibition showcases connections between Alaska Native makers and our wild resources. Each artist in this exhibition honors materials and memories that have been passed down through family. Danielle Larsen’s paintings share snapshots of family traditions and pay homage to Alaska landscapes and wild creatures. Artists Merna Wharton, Quki/Golga Oscar, Kunaq Tahbone and filmmaker Alex Sallee celebrate material traditions of arctic ground squirrel. Bobby Brower, Joni Spiess and Dana Hank highlight creative practices with seal skin. Michelle Ravenmoon’s work showcases subsistence resources with her Dena’ina style hood made from caribou hide, martin fun, fish skin, and porcupine quills. Through their work, each artist carries forward kinship ties, connections to place, and our way of living.

The title for this group show is meant to captures the concept of “Our way of Living” or “Doing things our Way.” This concept reflects practices that have sustained our communities for centuries. Participating artists would like to highlight Indigenous terms for this concept, recognizing the power of language: Suumacirpet (Our Way of Living: Sugcestun), Anĝaĝiisingin (The way we live: Unangam Tunuu), Yuuyaraput (Our way of life: Yup’ik), Uaptiktun inniguq (Doing things Our Way: Inupiaq).

Contributors: Danielle Larsen, Kunaq/Marjorie Tahbone, Alex Sallee, Merna Wharton, Michelle Ravenmoon, Quki/Golga Oscar, Dana Hank, Bobby Qalutaksraq Brower, Joni Kitmiiq Spiess, Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi, Asia Freeman, Angie Demma”

The project is supported in part by Anchorage Museum Curating Indigenous Circumpolar Sovereignty Project, The CIRI Foundation and National Performance Network. 

Exhibit Tour Schedule:
July 5 -31, Bunnell Street Arts Center
August 15 – September 30, Alaska Native Heritage Center
October 15- November 30, Nome Museum

Artist Statements and Bios:

Bobby Lynn Brower (Inupiaq) – Tipi-to be washed ashore

In 2020, there was a summer storm in Utqiagvik, AK. The wind was so strong that the waves washed up close to 40 dead seals. Growing up in Utqiagvik, Bobby had never experienced a storm like this one. Bobby had been patiently waiting for her brother Bradley to go seal hunting, so that she could make a sealskin coat for an exhibit in New Mexico. Next thing she knows, her dad Gordon is calling her to tell her to go to the beach to pick up seals. Bobby was so excited that she called her brother Bradley to head to Point Barrow to pick some up. They met out there with their cousin Nanauq and loaded up nine seals. Then they drove them over to Bobby’s house where she skinned 6 of them, washed them, and sent them to a tannery. With the salvaged six seal hides, she was able to make this men’s sealskin coat. Bobby felt really blessed to be able to salvage these hides to make a garment. It can get very expensive hunting seals because of the cost of gas and time. She thought, maybe young hunters accidentally sunk some of these seals and they were washed ashore. Not knowing how long the seals might have been dead, she was happy that she could use the skins for a project. The leftover meat was brought back to the beach for the animals to scavenge.”

Dana Hank (Tikigaq) – Polar Bear and Seal Kamiks

“My name is Dana Hank. I am from Point Hope (Tikigaq), Alaska. I started sewing about 24 years ago with my husband’s grandmother. The piece I made is a pair of polar bear kamiks. When I was a little girl, I walked by a pair of nanuq kamiks hanging in my parent’s entryway every day. My mother made a pair for my Dad. I thought to myself, one day I want to make those. This is year, I finally did. The materials I used are polar bear (nanuq), black beaver, sun bleached sealskin (nalauq) and bearded seal. 

I home tanned all the skins myself with the exception of the black beaver. The body of the kamiks are made of polar bear (nanuq) skin and black beaver. It was a long process from start to finish to get the nanuq skin ready to sew with. The qupak is made of sun bleached de-haired sealskin (nalauq) and dyed black de-haired sealskin (nalauq). The qupak features seal and polar bear appliques, and I also weaved black and white naluaq strips as a decorative border. This was my first attempt at weaving nalauq. The very top trim is also de-haired dyed black sealskin. I braided black and white nalauq as a decorative trim around the toe of the qamiks. They also feature white nalauq ties and bearded sealskin crimped hard bottoms.

I was inspired to make this piece by my great, great grandmother Dinah Frankson, my mother Kristi Frankson and my grandmother in law Mabel Hank.”

Danielle Larson (Unangam Tunuu) – Painter

“Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, I was surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of nature and the rich history of the Alaska Native cultures. As an artist, I have always been drawn to the small things that hold a deeper meaning, like my Dad’s kippered smoked salmon jars, Grandpa’s down river hat, my Grandma’s ivory necklace, and my Auntie’s tea cup filled with coffee. Through painting still life and capturing Alaska animals, I aim to showcase the beauty in these objects and the memories they hold. Color and light play a crucial role in my work, bringing to life the vibrant and ever-changing landscape of my home. Through my art, I hope to transport viewers to a time and place with their own family, igniting a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the small things in life and our way of live (Anĝaĝiisingin “the way we live” (Unangam Tunuu).

Quki/Golga Oscar (Yup’ik) – Shield Squirell Parka

“Qaliq (kha-lik) – Yup’ik Shield parka contains various natural and commercialized materials. The embellishments implemented onto the qaliq have stories behind them. The designs incorporated are part of my maternal side of the family’s symbol; I have researched for half a decade, trying to obtain them. These two qaliq are both male and female parka. A men’s squirrel parka contains tails attached, while the women’s parka does not and has many tassels. The colors that are used are focused on Yup’ik colors: red, blue, black, and white, which were heavily used during our ancestral times as pigments. Quki/Golga Oscar is from Kasigluk and Tununeq.

Joni Kitmiiq Spiess (Inupiaq) – Seal skin hunting bag Spring

“This seal skin hunting bag is a product of much thought and years of refining my work.The trim is sewn with calf and goat skin and is adorned with an ivory Alaskan Malamute husky. The project is inspired by the subsistence hunting that I participate in with my son. The bag was sewn to be both decorative and utilitarian. The malamute husky represents the family dog, Aiviq (walrus in Inupiaq). Joni Kitmiiq Spiess Inupiaq from Nome, Alaska.

Merna Lomack Wharton, Yugtun atqa, Nasektaq (Yup’ik) – Squirrel Parkas

“Merna is Yup’ik from Akiachak residing in Anchorage, Alaska.  Merna’s parents are Jimmy Lomack of Akiacuaq and Mary Ann Lomack originally from Kuiggluk.

Yupiit arctic ground squirrel parkas share the magical stories of warriors, hunters, gathers, families and historical events through their designs. This piece is traditionally called “Quliitaq”.  In the 1990’s my mom Mary Ann interviewed an elder from Kwethluk, Elizabeth Paul who shared the design and measurements following the patterns that were passed down from one seamstress to another. The design pieces were gifted to me so that I could make a parka and replicate the design. I made this parka for my niece.  In remembrance of my paternal great grandmother, Lizzy Lomack, I made the parka longer than usual. She inspired me to be creative with her handmade clothes.

I enjoy hand crafting to preserve my culture and art and to inspire Alaska Native artists to continue parka making through sharing my process.  

Processing arctic ground squirrels is time consuming and requires logistical planning by all involved. Making arctic ground squirrel parkas requires good teaching in the field, and homes as well as classrooms. I purchased raw arctic ground squirrel pelts from Akiachak and Kwethluk trappers.  I processed the pelts by hand with a stretching board after they were washed, dried and then softened.  

I want to thank the trappers and the families of Elizabeth Paul, Quyana”

Michelle Ravenmoon (Dena’ina Athabascan) – Dena’ina Hood

“Michelle Ravenmoon (Dena’ina Athabascan) is from Intricate Bay on Lake Iliamna. She learned to sew in the Dena’ina style from her elders, her grandmother Mary Delkittie and master sewer Annie Parks. She hunts, fishes, and tans her own leather in the style of her ancestors. Michelle works with various mediums such as fish skin, fish bones, fur, leather, porcupine quills, birch bark, dentalium, and beads.  

She studies Athabascan clothing in museums to help her answer questions on how pieces are made. She teaches sewing in communities and camps, especially with youth.  Her intention with her art is to honor the wisdom of her ancestors while embracing the beauty of the present moment. It is also important for Michelle demonstrate through her art, a respect and an understanding of the reciprocity with the natural world, the ełnena. 

This Dena’ina style hood is made with tanned caribou, and martin fur and  trimmed with porcupine quills, and dyed salmon skin.  It is painted with red ochre.  Although the Dena’ina style hood is no longer made or used among the Dena’ina, it was believed that the Dena’ina wore them to keep mosquitos off their heads and necks in the summer.  It is also very warm and could be worn in the winter.  One can hear amazingly well with it on, it may have been a good hat to wear while hunting.”

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