The Juneau-Douglas City Museum has been awarded funds from the Museums Alaska Art Acquisition Fund, supported by the Rasmuson Foundation, to purchase artworks from two Juneau artists: Abel Ryan and Mary Ellen Frank.
The fund was established by the Rasmuson Foundation over a decade ago to benefit active collecting and exhibiting institutions, and to support contemporary Alaskan artists. To date, with support of the Rasmuson Art Acquisition grant program, the City Museum has acquired over 50 artworks for its permanent collection by local Juneau artists.
“These three contemporary pieces are important additions to the City Museum’s collection. Ryan’s cedar paddle and silver ring help us to connect the long traditions of carving, personal adornment, and transportation by canoe to the culture and lives of today. Frank’s doll not only represents Elizabeth Peratrovich the individual but serves as a symbol of the fight for Native rights in our community, state, and nation,” Curator of Collections and Exhibits Jodi DeBruyne said.
The Museum purchased a killer whale canoe paddle and carved silver ring from Tsimshian carver Abel Ryan, a member of the wolf clan. Ryan studied carving with master carver, Jack Hudson of Metlakatla and has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sheldon Jackson College and a Native Arts Studio and Printmaking degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A practicing Northwest Coast artist for 30 years, Ryan has been teaching and demonstrating for 16 years, and teaches Northwest Coast carving at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.
Ryan said: “The killer whale paddle is designed to be able to handle a strong pull in a large dugout canoe in what are sometimes not very nice waters around Southeast Alaska. The blade is designed to slice into the water smoothly and quietly and offer a strong and quick pull for the canoe. My choice of yellow cedar is to ensure a strong paddle and one that will have a very long life. I chose the killer whale design for this paddle because they too move through the water quickly and silently. These whales also have strong family connections and work together when traveling, hunting, teaching, and playing. The killer whale has a very strong spirit which I have depicted in the face emerging from the blowhole.”
The Museum purchased a portrait doll of “Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich: Tlingit Civil Rights Activist, Lukaax.adi Clan member” from Mary Ellen Frank. Before constructing this doll, Frank approached Roy Jr., Elizabeth’s son, with her desire to complete and offer it to the City Museum, and he agreed. Frank looked at a bust of Peratrovich in the Capitol Building, photos from the Alaska State Library and family photo albums. The portrayal of Peratrovich is based on the clothing and hair style Elizabeth Wannamaker Peratrovich wore in the photo of Governor Gruening signing the anti-discrimination bill she was so instrumental in securing passage of in 1945.
Frank is a lifelong Alaskan who has pursued her art through clothing design and construction, carving, drawing and pottery. Her training has been continuous, with costumers, carvers and wood turners, anatomy and portraiture instructors, doll makers and from her own students. The Museum has purchased the portrait doll of Walter Soboleff in 2004 and portrait doll of Cecelia Kunz in 2010 through the Art Acquisition Initiative. Both portrait dolls have provided valuable artistic interpretation to complement history content of these important Juneau figures.
The Museum will soon exhibit Frank’s Elizabeth Peratrovich’s portrait doll in its politics and personalities gallery and Ryan’s paddle in the general history gallery.