Crystal clear: Subsistence and tradition influence new exhibition at city museum

Worl’s whirlwind world shapes her work.

Crystal Worl’s new exhibition is influenced by both her recent personal experiences and 10,000 years of history.

“One Raven: Painting One Story at a Time,” a collection of artwork by Worl on display at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum through Dec. 28, is influenced by Worl’s Tlingit and Athabascan heritage, formline principals Worl continues to learn as an apprentice to Haida artist Robert Davidson and her experiences with nature while hunting and fishing.

“My favorite place in the world is on my uncle’s boat,” Worl said during a Coffee & Collections presentation at the museum. “The life I see out there, the colors I see out there, it sticks with me.”

“Seeing the animals and touching them and interacting with them, getting to know what their personalities are like helps determine how I’ll paint them,” she added.

For example, multiple paintings in the exhibition depict a seal — an animal that Worl has harvested.

“A part of painting the seal again and again and again is sort of my way of acknowledging and thanking the seal for doing that (giving its life),” Worl said.

Subsistence practices are important to Worl.

“There was a turning point when I was in college, and I was like, ‘Who am I?’ ” Worl said. “The family I come from are so resilient and amazing, and here I am struggling to download something on my computer.”

Worl said she feels a powerful sense of connection to her ancestors through hunting and foraging on the same Southeast Alaska land and in the same waters as her progenitors 10,000 years ago.

“There’s that sense of belonging,” Worl said. “It makes me feel connected to them and not just in a spiritual way. I can connect with them physically.”

Plus, she said the diet and exercise tends to be good for her health.

Worl’s work also incorporates elements of Athabascan art, which adds bright colors to some of her pieces.

“In a lot of my work you’ll see a Tlingit design, but you’ll also see floral patterns or patterns that are not Tlingit, but related to Athabascan beadwork patterns and some Yup’ik patterns as well,” Worl said.

Worl said she relishes the serenity and nature, too. That’s especially true since she spends about half of her time in Vancouver while working with Davidson.

“My life is chaos,” Worl said.

The relative silence of the natural world is a palate cleanser for her senses. It’s a time she said she can hear her heartbeat or whales breathing instead of the hubbub of British Columbia’s largest city.

In silent space.

We manifest our thoughts.

Tapping into our subconscious.

We visual our ancestor’s experiences thru the art.

We dream of those to come and the world we live & leave to their hands.

So that they too can share their breath on cedar.

And bring to fruition.

— Crystal Worl

However, the time spent in Vancouver has a profound impact on Worl’s art, too.

For the last two years, Worl has apprenticed with Davidson, a renowned master carver, and that has affected her formline work.

Worl said working with Davidson has emphasized the amount of work that most go into grasping the principals of the Northwest Coast art form.

She said often times artists will experiment with formline before truly understanding the “ABCs of the language.” Davidson, Worl said, insists on continually learning and improving through investing time in creating art.

“You can’t order intuition on Amazon,” Worl said. “You have to put time into it.”

The work Worl has put in means the bubbly look of past work epitomized by her popular “Formline Babies” designs have matured into striking art with harsh elegance and greater fluidity.

“He (Davidson) said it was time for the babies to grow up,” Worl said.

However, the simpler “baby” designs have their virtues, too, said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute and Crystal Worl’s grandmother. Rosita Worl was in the audience for the Coffee & Collections event.

“One of the things she should be known for is she introduces minimalist Northwest Coast design,” Rosita Worl said.

She said that makes it easier to teach formline to youths.

Crystal Worl said the Davidson-instilled discipline and dedication has made its way into her life outside of the studio, too.

“I’ve been applying it to everything I can,” she said. “If it’s important to you, you will make time for it.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt


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