Thinking Independently Together

Floating 24X24X3/4 $175 acrylicArt is not a thing; it is a way.Elbert Hubbard


Its November, I’m not really sure where October went, time seems to accelerate every fall and then slow down in January for the cold! If you’re like me, you may be looking forward to a feast with friends and family on Thanksgiving day ~ I know I am! My general outlook is one of thankfulness and I tend not to get hung up on all the historical inaccuracies associated with the day, nor do I focus on the history to be honest. Thanks, Food, Family, Friends, Fun; thats it for me. (no, the food doesn’t come before family and friends for me, but I do love a feast!) I’m not going to focus on my own art in this post because November is also Native American Heritage Month, so I want to share a little about Alaska Natives/Native Americans and a few specific artists. I am married to an Alaska Native. He and our three adult children are registered members of the Sun’aq tribe of Kodiak Alaska. Their tribe is one of about 10 Alutiiq tribes that are federally recognized. In my husband’s hometown of Kodiak they have a wonderful Alutiiq Museum that I enjoy visiting. Of course my favorite thing to view is the art, big surprise, I know! When I was there the art in the museum was traditional art associated with their tribal culture and history; heritage. Its important to remember that even though there are still many native artists practicing and preserving their tribes’ traditional art that today many Native American artists also create contemporary art. I am not an expert on Alaska Natives/Native Americans, but I don’t have to be an expert to be an appreciator and give recognition; we all can do that!


Art doesn’t transform. It just plain forms.

Roy Lichtenstein

I can’t even think about Alaska Natives/Native Americans and their art without mentioning my time living in Ketchikan Alaska. In Ketchikan you are immersed in beautiful traditional Native art throughout the town, I loved it! I lived in Ketchikan for 10 years and really enjoyed learning about the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes which are historically from that part of Alaska. Of course many members of those tribes live all over the map today! The totem poles in Ketchikan are amazing. One thing I love about them is the story that goes with each one ~ hearing the story to go with the art, its like a two-for-one! While living in Ketchikan I was lucky to attend educational potlatches and watch the dancers in their beautifully crafted regalia. Nathan Jackson is a Ketchikan resident, Tlingit, and an artist. He is a 1995 NEA National Heritage Fellow. This is part of what the National Endowment for the Arts website says about him:

Art is an integral part of the Tlingit social system, which is made up of clans, and many of the design motifs of Tlingit art are generated from clan crests such as the raven, eagle, killer whale, and beaver. Others come from traditional stories. An accomplished traditional artist must know the meanings of these symbols and stories, and a totem carver must know the protocol involved in commissioning, carving, and raising a totem pole. Jackson is a traditional dancer and an esteemed bearer of Tlingit values as well as a master wood carver, metalsmith, and creative artist.

Nathan Jackson was born in 1938 but he lives now in 2014, so even though his totem poles are finished with hand carving tools in the old ways he does take advantage of modern advances in technology (just like the rest of us) and use a chain saw for roughing out his poles. Nathan Jackson is preserving and passing down the knowledge and skills of his Tlingit tribe’s art and creating his own art.Nathan Jackson


This carving of Nathan Jackson’s is called The Catch.

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.

Ernst Fischer

Gretchen Sagan, is an Alaska Native and a contemporary artist. She creates beautiful paintings but they are definitely not ‘traditional’ native art meant to preserve the history of her tribe but rather very modern art moving her heritage into the present and future. This is what she says about herself and her art:

I’m Gretchen Sagan, an Inupiaq artist from Anchorage, Alaska.I had a traditional European art education with a strong background in printmaking, etching and lithography.After I returned to Alaska, I naturally transitioned into painting, which is what I do mostly now.Although my work is contemporary and abstract, there’s a strong element of it being grounded in the natural world. In all of my work, I explore our connectedness and who I am in relation to the world.My Native heritage is intrinsic to my work, as it certainly defines who I am and how I see the world.I’m very sensitive to my environment and open to sensations of what is happening around me, and this is reflected in my work. I guess when you look at it, you can see that it is formed by my curiosity, confusion and self discovery.And in the future, I hope to continue this artistic journey. And I invite you to see my paintings and relate to them at whatever level they can connect with you.Thank you.Gretchen Sagan

This painting of Gretchen’s is called Breach and is 24X24.

You can learn more about Gretchen and see more of her art at I hope you will take the time to visit her site and browse her artwork, its a treat!


Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.

Winston Churchill

Each Alaska Native/Native American tribe is unique. Having lived on both coasts of the US and in Alaska I have seen this firsthand. The tribes that are historically from North Carolina, where I live currently, are very different from the tribes in Alaska or on the West Coast where I grew up. I was reminded of this observation recently when I was reading a blog post my friend Kara Stewart co-authored (its a five part series of posts) for writers called Indian 101 for Writers. You should check it out, its a good read and not just for writers, its for teachers, parents, actually humans in general! In her own words Kara is “ a writer and the artist behind Kara Stewart, Art in Photography. I’m an SCBWI member and a mother, daughter, teacher, writer, reader and photographer. Above all, I cannot live without creativity. I’m a full time Literacy Coach in the public schools currently living in North Carolina with my almost grown children and my beloved dog Samson. Enrolled Sappony tribal member.” She is the author of the blog From here to Writernity . You can see her artwork sprinkled throughout the 5 part series or visit her Art in Photography site. While reading her Indian 101 series I thought people who read my blog would probably enjoy it too, and Kara is another great example of how Native Americans are just like the rest of us, evolving with the times. Check her out.Kara Stewart

Feather Shield Medallion by Kara Stewart

You can see more of Kara’s work in her Art in Photography Zazzle store.

Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.

Cesar Chavez


Enjoy your feast if you partake, think about the many things you are thankful for, and enjoy some art ~ because it just makes life better!! Happy November ~

Light, love, laughter,



Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.

Malcolm Forbes

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *