The shortest distance between our past and our present is a formline.
As part of our mission to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures, we are helping to preserve and promote traditional Native art. From workshops on traditional techniques to shows and auctions featuring work from contemporary masters, we are proud to be helping Juneau become the world capital for Northwest Coast Art.
The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian centuries ago developed a unique and distinctive artistic tradition and incorporated it into all aspects of their lives. The creative art forms were depicted on everything from sacred clan objects to utilitarian items, tools and equipment and housing. While Southeast Alaska Natives valued their material culture primarily for its spiritual and social dimensions, aesthetic qualities were also greatly appreciated. Artists and crafts people, who created clan masterpieces as well utilitarian objects, held a special status within these indigenous cultures.
The arrival of Westerners to the shores of Southeast Alaska stimulated many changes. The belief system surrounding Haa At.óowu (our treasures) was challenged, and clan objects were sought by the outsiders as curios and artifacts. The creativity and workmanship of the early artists, as well as the exotic features of our artistic traditions, spurred an intense period of collecting by Westerners during the last quarter of the 1800s until the early 1900s.
Other factors contributed to changes within the traditional material culture. Native peoples became increasingly restricted in their abilities to maintain access to their traditional subsistence economies, and they entered the cash economy to sustain their livelihood. Additionally, the practice of art apprenticeships all but disappeared. Art production continued, but it was largely limited to the tourist market which seriously began in the late 1800s. With the increasing production for the export market and the decreasing number of young artists apprenticing with master artists, the quality of art production deteriorated. Fortunately, a few artists were able to continue their ancient traditions, but the great art masterpieces that brought acclaim to the Southeast Native cultures were primarily located in museums.
The mission of the Sealaska Heritage Institute is to perpetuate and enhance the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture. In keeping with that objective, our art programs seek to reclaim the greatness of the Northwest Coast art traditions and to support its continued evolution.
We create our programs under the guidance of our Native Artists Committee, which reviews all program content. The committee currently includes master Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson, master Haida weaver Delores Churchill, Tlingit contemporary artist Nicholas Galanin, formline expert Steve Brown, and artist Da-ka-xeen Mehner.