My class Project Plan:
I've attached a brief video as an example of easily accessed form-line design in our community. Students could collect a set of examples, via digital camera, and arrange their images in a slide-show according to some element or theme they notice. As a class, we will share discoveries, then formulate and discuss some of the questions posed in my video. Students will research via books, museums and community interviews to help them analyze form-line design and begin to answer their questions. Ultimately, students should identify a local artist they respect and attempt to duplicate an existing design in a carved linoleum block. We will press these into clay slabs and fire them as boxes, or mugs, to preserve our personal homages. Students will title these studies with the name of their chosen artist/mentor. Student will share specifically what they learned about the elements and influences in form-line design and be able to express, verbally and in writing, what they admire in local form-line design.
My mother's dental office got a contract to bring services to the bush. Soon, my sister and I each had Inuit-made seal-skin teddy bears and hand-sewn cotton kuspuks. Our home was decorated with polarbear-fur dance fans, Aleut grass baskets, and Cupik leather dolls made by exotic artists from remote villages. I wondered at 3x5 photos of windswept snow drifts and dark smiling faces of children from a faraway land - a land we somehow shared under the name, "Alaska." I knew my mother's experiences were special.
I took a summer job at the Nulagvik Hotel in Kotzebue; I worked Bristol Bay fisheries a few summers in a row. I enjoyed the rhythms and flow of Unangan and Yupik, and fancied I could identify some of the differences between Yupik and Inupiaq. Some of those windswept drifts and smiling faces from my mother's photos came into focus in my own life experience - They weren't always smiling, but their lives were rich and mysterious. I began to see, the Arts of these communities are living, breathing, and changing, with time and place. They are influenced, not just by specific cultures and resources, but by diverse individuals, their movements, their interests and their resourcefulness.
Later, I worked as a tour guide throughout Alaska and the Yukon. I eventually earned my Art teaching degree. I've marched far and wide across the State, in search of the "most authentic sources" of "true native" arts and crafts.
And I fell in love with the Northwest Coast Native Design of Southeast Alaska.
I studied the convenient information available at gift shops and museums, working to discern differences in line quality, shape and style. As I came to recognize Reg Davidson from Marvin Oliver, Wayne Price over Philip Janze, I even came to think of myself as a bit of a connoisuer of the strong graphic form-line design in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian territory. But, like so many other things in life - The more you learn, the more you know you don't know!
For Info on Marvin Oliver: Marvin Oliver's web site
For Info on Reg Davidson: Reg Davidson's web site
For Info on Philip Janze: this gallery
For info on Wayne Price: Wayne Price's web site
I longed to share what I was discovering! "Why weren't there teaching materials to help artists and teachers study the intricacies and stylistic trends of this fascinating abstract design system?" I determined I would design a fool-proof manipulatives kit!
I drew out my first ovoids and u-forms and I began to cut out my "templates".... "OOOOoooohhhh..." Nothing teaches better than doing. Form-line design is created to fit in particular spaces. It is impossible to achieve that satisfying interdependent balance so particular to form-line design with pre-fabricated templates - My idea was a flop. It was not so simple...
Yet somehow, most Juneau artists seem to feel they "miss the mark." Bill Holm's "Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form" (Burke Museum, 1965) and Hilary Stewart's 1979 "Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast" are the preferred references for many Juneau form-line fanatics.
Moving to the "source" location has allowed me to expand my understanding of form-line design in ways I could never have imagined. The complexity of issues like propriety and clan ownership require frequent formal and informal exchanges with different artists and community experts. Excellent examples of work for comparison and analysis of different eras and sources are around every corner:
- Local Juneau business logo
- 6th street public sculpture
- Gallery wares in downtown shops
And sometimes I explore my own form-line abilities, now that I'm more familiar with the particular shapes, angles, and curves...
I was so fortunate to get Ray Watkin's help with my work on the Gastineau School gym design.
I look forward to more opportunities to work with experienced form-line artists.
Local Experts are often willing to guide one who asks respectfully for help.
Other novice artists are often a huge inspiration!
Taking the time, to explore the Place, over time, living and working directly with the source of the artwork - the people - influences me and my work, indelibly. I am marked by what Raven sees.
Klawok High School student's transformation mask - Haines Art Fest 2010
(My "Devil Fish"sketch on a napkin during lectures in the Place-Based Institute, June 8-9, 2010:).