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Eskimo Drawings

 

The Anchorage museum has organized the first-ever major exhibition of drawings by the Alaska artists who have detailed Eskimo life-ceremonies, clothing, tools and technology-depicting their cultures from their own point of view. Eskimo Drawings runs through September 14, 2003. (right: Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk, Eskimo singing, 1931, ink and watercolor on paper, 17.5 cm x 25 cm, Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk Collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Department, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 66-38-54. Photographed by Richard Veazey)

Featuring more than 250 original drawings, watercolors, and pastels, the exhibit draws on collections held by Alaska museums, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives, as well as many private collections. Of special interest are the drawings loaned by the National Museum of Denmark that were made for the famed Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1924. Drawn by Nunivak Islanders, many depict mythical figures from the Nunivaarmiut spiritual universe.

Perhaps the most surprising and delightful drawings in the exhibit are the lovely pencil sketches on the backs of census forms and other available paper scraps that were drawn by the young men who were students and apprentice reindeer herders in Cape Prince of Wales in the early 1890s. For those familiar with North American Indian art, these drawings are the Inupiaq equivalent of the famed Plains Indian ledger drawings.

A mermaid perched on the edge of an ice floe dangling her feet in the Bering Sea, is one of the many intriguing Kivetoruk Moses images in this summer's wonderful new exhibition, Eskimo Drawings. In another, the heroic lnupiaq strongman, llaganiq, is portrayed swimming in the waters off the cliffs of northwest Alaska, having vanquished the dangerous undersea monster that has been waylaying and swallowing entire umiakloads of travelers. A dramatic scene of a hunter, armed only with his walking stick, confronting a snarling wolf,commemorates the remarkable day in Kivetoruk's own life when he had gone out duck hunting along the beach with four cartridges in his rifle and encountered five well-fed wolves sleeping in a bunch - a hunting trip that was front-page news in the Mukluk Telegraph. Other drawings include those of shamans' activities, traditional dance celebrations, and amazing portraits-including one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Perhaps less familiar than the art of Kivetoruk Moses is the work of Milo Minock, a Yup'ik artist from Pilot Station. His finely detailed and draftsman-like depictions of subsistence tools and technologies, meant to preserve knowledge for future generations, have been described as the Yup'ik counterpart to Popular Mechanics.

Also new to many viewers are the early drawings of Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk of St. Lawrence Island. In her highly graphic ink sketches and watercolors, Malewotkuk has recorded intimate scenes of daily life in Gambell in the 1920s - a family at dinner, women bathing, two men quietly at work cutting rawhide line. In other works, highly charged with emotion, she has captured the intensity of singing, drumming and dancing.

From Moses to Malewotkuk, these Alaska artists offer insights into Eskimo life with a clarity and authenticity that comes only from first-hand knowledge and remarkable powers of observation. Treasured as art, valued as history, these works in Eskimo Drawings provide lasting images and fascinating perspectives.

 

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