Juneau artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl poses with an Alaska Airlines 737-800 aircraft decorated with Worl’s latest work, Xáat Kwáani (Salmon People). Alaska Airlines held a unveiling ceremony on Friday, May 12 to welcome the plane into service. (Courtesy Photo / Alaska Airlines)

Juneau artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl poses with an Alaska Airlines 737-800 aircraft decorated with Worl’s latest work, Xáat Kwáani (Salmon People). Alaska Airlines held a unveiling ceremony on Friday, May 12 to welcome the plane into service. (Courtesy Photo / Alaska Airlines)

Formline meets airline: Crystal Worl’s salmon-inspired design takes to the skies

Xáat Kwáani makes its inaugural flight.

This is a developing story.

Thanks to Juneau artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl, an Alaska Airlines plane is anything but plain.

Alaska Airlines on Friday hosted a welcome ceremony at the Juneau International Airport for a plane named Xáat Kwáani that features a captivating salmon formline livery designed by Worl, who is Tlingit and Athabascan. The plane landed in Alaska’s capital city at about 9:30 a.m.

In Lingít, the Tlingit language, Xáat Kwáani means “Salmon People,” which according to a news release issued by Alaska Airlines, refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and for everyone who benefits from the fish’s stewardship of the environment. According to Alaska Airlines, the plane marks the first time a domestic airline’s aircraft has been named in an Alaska Native language.

“This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” said Worl in a news release. “People will see it, they’ll read it, they’ll try to say ‘Xáat Kwáani’ (Salmon People), and they’ll want to know more and be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it. I’m excited to be part of this.”

While the plane represents milestone firsts in use of Alaska Native language and formline art, it is not Worl’s first time showcasing formline art on a large scale or for a large audience. In 2020 Worl also decorated one of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s ambulances with a healing hand and a formline face on both sides. She is also the artist behind a large mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich in downtown Juneau and a formline mural in Anchorage. Worl’s artwork has also been featured on postage stamps depicting skateboards and a Google Chromebook theme.

[Formline follows function: New ambulance art reaches to cultural roots, fits vehicle’s purpose]

The salmon design by Worl for Alaska Airlines is said to not only honor the salmon, but culture, artistic expression, and language of the Alaska Native and Native American people of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Formline art dates back more than thousands of years and is a two-dimensional design style integral to the culture of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska.

Courtesy Photo / Alaska Airlines
Crystal Worl’s formline artwork is on display for Alaska Airlines’ newest 737-800 aircraft. The aircraft is the first in the history of domestic airlines to feature Tlinglit language. Xáat Kwáani means “Salmon People” in the Tlingit language and refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and all of us who benefit from their stewardship of the environment, according to the airline.

Courtesy Photo / Alaska Airlines Crystal Worl’s formline artwork is on display for Alaska Airlines’ newest 737-800 aircraft. The aircraft is the first in the history of domestic airlines to feature Tlinglit language. Xáat Kwáani means “Salmon People” in the Tlingit language and refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and all of us who benefit from their stewardship of the environment, according to the airline.

Alaska Airlines Regional Vice President Marilyn Romano acknowledged Worl’s love of monumental art and mentioned Worl’s recent murals on the sides of buildings within Juneau and Anchorage. Romano further said that Alaska Airlines had a “large blank canvas” with the 737-800 aircraft.

“During our first conversation, Crystal shared her desire to paint an Alaska Airlines plane — she has flown with us most of her life,” Romano said in a press release. “Salmon as a focus was intentional and Crystal shares the relationship between salmon and Native people through storytelling and artistic design.”

The aircraft officially began its journey as a commercial plane with the inaugural flight from Anchorage through Southeast Alaska on Friday, according to the news release. The very first stop of Alaska Airlines flight 62 was through Juneau, Worl’s hometown, to the state’s capital, before it continued on to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle.

“My heart is so full and warm,” Worl said in the release. “Every time I create something big or small, it’s the same feeling of just fulfilling this need and wanting to create something and share my story, to stimulate something that’s in me that feels connected. It feels good to say that I live in Juneau and fish and hunt here and eat off this land. My family’s been here for a long time, and I can say my ancestors are from here, and I’m eating the same food in the same place that they once were, and that’s really special to be able to share that and say that and feel that—and to create and retell their stories through my eyes. It’s powerful.”

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

Xáat Kwáani sits on the wet tarmac at Juneau International Airport after landing Friday morning. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Xáat Kwáani sits on the wet tarmac at Juneau International Airport after landing Friday morning. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

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