Connecting to Native Alaskan Culture through Today’s Native Artists

With 229 federally recognized tribes, 20 distinct cultures, and 300 different dialects, Alaska Native culture is endlessly woven through the fabric of Alaskan history and culture. The artistic traditions of these cultures are diverse, from beautiful beadwork and basketry to carvings large and small. With traditions and skills passed down for thousands of years, contemporary Alaska Native artists continue to tell their stories through a wide range of traditional and modern art. Below are some of the ways you can experience Alaskan Native artwork on your next trip to Alaska:

MURAL

Alaska’s largest cities are home to a growing number of monumental works of wall art by Alaska Native artists. The Alaska Mural Project, a collaborative community organization hosted by the Anchorage Museum, has overseen the installation of 9 murals in downtown Anchorage since 2020, many of which feature works by Indigenous artists.

A must-see on your next visit to downtown Anchorage are two recent works: a beautiful mural depicting the Chugach Mountains and depictions of several Alaska Native tribes by Crystal Worl (Tlingit and Athabascan) on G Street and 7th Avenue, and a colorful mask Peeking from the side of the Kobuk Building at E Street and 5th Avenue by Drew Michael (Inupiaq & Yup’ik). Visit the Alaska Mural Project website for a complete list of murals and locations.

Visitors to Juneau are also treated to another spectacular Crystal Worl mural: Elizabeth Peratrovich’s downtown mural on the south wall of the Juneau Public Library. Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit civil rights activist who fought for equality for the native peoples of Alaska, is pictured in front of a raven and a sockeye salmon – representing her half and her clan.

A woman looks at the Crystal Worl Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown Juneau; Photo credit: Trip to Alaska

The Native Movement building in Fairbanks is home to a new community mural depicting the words “what the hands do, the hearts learn” and images of local elders and Alaska Native children. This mural is the first in a collaborative community mural project that will feature new works by local Alaska Native artists. Learn more about the mural project here.

INDIGENOUS PLACE NAMES PROJECT

The Anchorage Park Foundation recently launched the Indigenous Place Names Collaborative Project to honor traditional Dena’ina Athabascan place names throughout Anchorage. Sculpture, the Dena’ina language, and explanations of the cultural significance of the region are combined in these public art installations. The metal artwork surrounding the panels was designed by Athabascan and Paiute artist Melissa Shaginoff and depicts a Dena’ina firebag with Dentalium beads. The place name sculptures are being installed in phases, with the first three sculptures being installed at Chanshtnu Muldoon Park, Westchester Lagoon and Point Woronzof. Visit the Indigenous Place Names Project website and watch this cultural stories video to learn more.

Indigenous Place Names Carving Project in Anchorage
Aboriginal Place Names Project sculpture at Point Woronozof, Anchorage

MUSEUMS

Visiting museums is probably the first activity that comes to mind when you think of discovering local art. Alaska is home to some fantastic museums throughout the state that not only house historical Alaska Native artifacts and exhibits, but also works and displays by contemporary artists.

Two of the best museums in Alaska to see works by contemporary Native artists are the Anchorage Museum and the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. At the Anchorage Museum, permanent and temporary exhibits tell stories of present-day Alaskan Native cultures through a wide variety of mediums including photography, film, graphic arts, insignia, tattoo , etc., in immersive exhibitions.

Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau
Sealaska Heritage Institute; Photo credit: Trip to Alaska

The Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building in downtown Juneau houses the largest collection of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian art in Alaska. The building itself is a work of art, with stunning 40-foot red metal artwork on the exterior of the building designed by Haida artist Robert Davidson, as well as three bronze house posts in front of the building designed by TJ Young (Haida), David R. Boxley (Tsimshian) and Stephen Jackson (Tlingit). Inside the building, visitors will see more monumental artwork, including a beautiful house facade by David R. Boxley and a stunning glass screen inside the Clan House by glass artist Tlingit Preston Singletary. The Sealaska Heritage Institute Arts Campus is a gathering place and educational facility for artists, with indoor-outdoor studio space, art exhibits, and outdoor event space for performances and the steps.

Glass screen in the Shuká Hít clan house at the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau
Glass screen in the Shuká Hít clan house at the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau; Photo credit: Trip to Alaska

Several museums and cultural centers across the state offer one of the best ways to experience Alaska Native art: through interactive art demonstrations. Be sure to check the calendars of events at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in Fairbanks, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, the Inupiat Heritage Center in Utqiagvik, and the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center for opportunities to attend demonstrations and classes in the arts, including carving, beadwork, jewelry making and other traditional crafts.

Carver at the Saxman Carving Shed at Saxman
Carver at the Saxman Carving Shed; Photo credit: Trip to Alaska

SUPPORTING ALASKA NATIVE ARISTS

Purchasing artwork by Alaskan Native artists allows you to bring home a piece of Alaskan Native culture, helps support Native artists, and continues the cultural traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Native Alaskan artwork, including jewelry, carvings, paintings, masks, clothing, and more, can be purchased statewide at local stores and galleries, museum stores, events and markets. Make sure the items you buy are authentic: Look for the Silver Hand sticker, which guarantees the piece is made by an Alaska Native artist. Don’t see the sticker? Ask merchants and gallery owners about the artists. If you’re at a market or event, you can often speak directly with the artists at their tables to learn more about their craft. Explore our Alaska Native Festivals and Events page for a list of some of the largest gatherings of Alaska Native artisans.

Alaska Native Jewelry at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
Alaska Native Jewelry at the Alaska Native Heritage Center; Photo credit: Trip to Alaska

However you choose to learn about and connect with Alaskan Native culture during your visit, we encourage you to be grateful, respectful, and curious. Learn more about how you can practice Alaska Native values ​​when exploring Alaska.