Alutiiq Cultural Value Paddle

Collections and exhibits manager Amanda Lancaster standing next to Jonathan and Hanna Sholl’s Alutiiq Cultural Value Paddle.

The Kodiak Alutiiq Museum has purchased five new works of art to add to its permanent collections. The museum received a $4,075 grant to purchase works by four Kodiak artists: Alf Pryor, Genevieve Opheim, and Jonathan and Hanna Sholl.

The museum will be adding three fine art photographs by Kodiak-based photographer Alf Pryor, which depict the former Akalura cannery. From Jonathan and Hanna Sholl, the museum will purchase a recently created Alutiiq Cultural Value Paddle. The fifth piece is a 4-foot long oil on canvas painting by Genevieve Opheim, entitled Ing’iq (Barometer Mountain). 

Opheim’s painting is a realistic work that shows an inland-facing view of Kodiak Island’s Barometer Mountain in winter.

Amanda Lancaster, the collections and exhibits manager at the museum, noted that the museum doesn’t have any other pieces that are inward-looking depictions of Kodiak.

“You know, so much of the art in Kodiak is looking out to the water,” she said, “so that’s what we thought made this one so special.” 

Opheim, an Inupiaq artist, is originally from Anchorage. She has lived on Kodiak for 15 years, painting portraits of the island’s people, plants and scenery. Ing’iq is the first of her works to be added to the Alutiiq Museum’s collections.

“I’m honored to have my painting added to the Alutiiq Museum’s collection,” Opheim said. “To me, Barometer Mountain is a landmark of the local culture. From when you arrive to Kodiak at its footsteps, to hiking it with family and friends or just admiring it, Barometer Mountain is a constant presence of Kodiak.” 

The piece purchased from Jonathan and Hanna Sholl is a full-sized, single-bladed, kayak paddle, which was hand-carved from red cedar. 

It is painted in a traditional style with bands of black design that suggest the layers of the Alutiiq universe, and a mask with a stylized face that suggests both the vision needed for hunting and the humanness in all things. 

Although the museum’s collections include a number of Hanna Sholl’s works (she also has a number of items for sale in the museum store), this is the first piece purchased by the museum that was co-produced by her husband, Jonathan, who did the carving.

Alf Pryor, who spends his summers fishing with his family at a set-net site in remote Olga Bay, is known for his images of Kodiak canneries and wildlife. Some of his installation work can be seen at the Kodiak High School and the Kodiak Brewery, but these are his first pieces to be added to the museum’s collections. 

Two of the images purchased by the museum, Fallen and Akalura Window, are multimedia prints. Each is mounted on a weathered piece of corrugated siding, which were salvaged after the cannery was torn down. The third image, Cannery Walkway, is a giclee print on canvas that shows the titular detail of the aging facilities.

“I’m deeply honored that the Alutiiq Museum choose my work for their collection. I feel my cannery series represents a very small but important snapshot into Kodiak’s past,” Pryor said. “During the rise of the canneries, our natural salmon systems were decimated. Being a lifelong salmon fishermen here in Kodiak, I feel we are making some of the same mistakes again. I hope my images will remind people of this brief time in Kodiak’s history.”

According to Lancaster, who’s been at the museum since March of this year, the new artwork will be on display within the next six months. 

“We’re going to turn one of the corridors into a ‘new acquisitions’ display,” said Lancaster. “From there, we’ll decide where they fit. I think the paddle will go next to the kayak we have displayed.”

The museum primarily exhibits archaeological finds from Kodiak Island and the Peninsula, for which it receives funding through various grants from organizations including the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Museums Alaska, the statewide museum association. However, it has recently been building its collection of contemporary artwork, which Lancaster referred to as “ethnographic work”. 

The process by which the museum purchases art is to first put out a call for proposals from artists. The collections committee then steps in to decide which pieces are right for the museum, and requests are made for funding. 

Support for these purchases comes from the Art Acquisition Fund. The fund, which was established by Rasmuson Foundation in 2003 and is administered by Museums Alaska, promotes the development of contemporary art collections in Alaska museums. Each year, the fund invites proposals to purchase the work of living Alaskan artists, made within the past five years.

Since the fund’s inception in 2003, the Alutiiq Museum has received $199,153.50 in grants to purchase 131 works by 39 artists. 

Lancaster said that earlier this year, the museum bought a piece of beadwork by Cheryl Lacy, which is currently in storage, and a traditional headdress produced by Alutiiq artist Kayla Christiansen, which is currently on display in Sitka.

One of the museum’s more striking recent purchases is a 2016 painting of a bear by Alvin Amason, which is currently being exhibited.

Lancaster said the museum is currently accepting applications for contemporary art to be purchased into the museum’s permanent collections.

“We’re asking for applications by November 30, and that will probably be the last time we do it until next year,” Lancaster said. “They’re restructuring the program, so it will probably be awhile before we can do it again.”

Alutiiq Museum Executive Director April Counceller also encouraged artists to propose pieces for the museum’s collections. 

“This program not only allows the museum to collect works that reflect Alutiiq culture and history, it helps our artists live their culture,” Counceller said. “When artists can make a living from their work, they can keep creating.”

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