Tlingit artist Káakaxaawulga Jennifer Younger knows the value of strong mussels.
The Sitka resident who grew up in Yakutat has made earrings and pendants in the image of the shapely shellfish for several years. So when it came time to crafting a more elaborate sculpture that was named the Best of Show in a juried art exhibit at Celebration this week, the inspiration came naturally, so to speak.
“I had this vision of making the mussel out of copper, as realistic as I could,” she wrote in an email interview Thursday from Toronto, where she was invited to participate in the city’s Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival. “Of course I had to add my engraved design. Raven seemed fitting, as they love mussels.”
There is, however, one oddity in that attraction since Younger is a Tlingit of the Eagle Kaagwaantaan clan.
“I am drawn to the Raven when I am creating,” she wrote, “Maybe it is because it is the opposite moiety, as I am Eagle. Raven is the ultimate creator and/or trickster in Tlingit stories.”
Younger’s sculpture, simply titled “Mussel,” also won the Best of Carving and Sculpture Division at the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s 11th biennial Juried Art Show and Competition. Thirteen artists were awarded top prizes in the competition and three young artists won awards in the fourth biennial Juried Youth Juried Art Exhibit.
“The creativity of this piece is extraordinary,” Shgendootan Robyn Kay George, a co-juror, said about Younger’s sculpture in a prepared statement. “The varying lines on the outer shell show knowledge of real mussel shells. Beautiful, creative and excellent craftsmanship.”
Younger, who said she had planned to attend Celebration before the Toronto invitation, had a friend read an acceptance speech during Wednesday’s awards ceremony.
“I wish my grandmother was here to witness the changes since her childhood was spent in a boarding school,” the speech declared. “I will continue to do my best to honor her and what was taken from her. Through sharing my art with the world it is always my hope to draw more attention to the multitude of amazing artists from Southeast Alaska.”
The Juried Youth Art Exhibit features 20 artworks by 15 high school students from Anchorage, Angoon, Craig, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Metlakatla, according to a press release from the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Haida artist Git Kuyaa Kinsie Young of Anchorage won first place for “Lightning Apron,” Tsimshian artist Alicia Feak-Lent of Metlakatla won second place for “Gertie,” and Tlingit and Tsimshian artist Sean Guthrie of Ketchikan won third place for “Northwest Coast.”
“Seeing your work submitted for the exhibit is incredibly encouraging and inspiring,” Jackson Polys (Stephen Paul Jackson), a Tlingit artist and educator who was the Youth Art Exhibit juror, wrote in a statement to the entrants. “The artworks reveal exciting developments of your artistic voice, as you experiment and refine through drawing, painting, carving, sewing, and weaving to create works that surprise us…Overall one can sense that your growing skill is giving you freedom to express both individually and to contribute to our cultural resurgence.”
The Juried Art Show exhibit will be at the Nathan Jackson Gallery at the Walter Soboleff Building through Dec. 3. The youth exhibit will be on display at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center through June 24.
Other winners of the Juried Art Show, which were judged “blindly” by George and Michael “Mick” Beasley since the artists’ names were not disclosed, according to a press release from the Sealaska Heritage Institute:
— Tlingit artist James Johnson won the Best of Formline Design award for his “Transforming Raven Box.”
— Tlingit artist Kaax̱ Tséen Herb Sheakley won the Best of Wood Category for “Lukakuwóox̱.”
— Tlingit artist William (Lee) Burkhart won the Best of Metal Category for his piece “Kéet,” as well as an Honorable Mention for “Eye of The Beholder.”
— Haida and Aleut artist Gregory Frisby won Best of 2D and Relief Carving Division for “Wasco Cloak,” which was also awarded second place in the Best of Formline awards.
— Tlingit and Haida artist Aanchgwanutk’ Janice Jackson won Best of Sewing Division and Best of Skin & Fur for her piece “Great Grandmother’s Spirit.”
— Tlingit artist Jill Kaasteen Meserve won Best of Beadwork for her piece “Resiliency in Connections: Mini Cellphone Octopus Bag.”
— Tlingit artist Kooseen Janice Hotch won Best of Vest Sewing for her “Tlingit Seal Hide Vest.”
— Tlingit artist Gunashaa Lisa Fisher won Best of Weaving Division for her piece “The Fishing Grounds.”
— Tlingit artist Wooshkindein Da.áat Lily Hope won Best of Chilkat-Inspired Weaving for her piece “Clarissa’s Feast Dish.”
— Tsimshian artist Ksm Lx’Sg̱a̱n Ruth Hallows won Best of Ravenstail for “Our Sisters Dance With Us.”
— Haida artist Kung K̠ayangs Marlene Liddle won the Best of Basketry Category for her piece “Golden Glow.”
— Tlingit, Haida and Aleut artist Ḵaatuwdu.oo Nicole Carle won an Honorable Mention for “Destination.”
— Haida artist Xay Kuyaas Ariane Medley took Best of Division in Endangered Arts for her piece “Ancestral Style Spruce Root Lidded Basket.”
SHI’s Juried Youth Art Exhibit includes 20 objects made by 15 high school students from Anchorage, Angoon, Craig, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan and Metlakatla. Haida artist Git Kuyaa Kinsie Young of Anchorage won first place for “Lightning Apron,” Tsimshian artist Alicia Feak-Lent of Metlakatla won second place for “Gertie,” and Tlingit and Tsimshian artist Sean Guthrie of Ketchikan won third place for :Northwest Coast.”
The Youth Art Exhibit juror was Jackson Polys (Stephen Paul Jackson), a Tlingit artist and educator. In a statement, he addressed the young artists: “Seeing your work submitted for the exhibit is incredibly encouraging and inspiring. The artworks reveal exciting developments of your artistic voice, as you experiment and refine through drawing, painting, carving, sewing, and weaving to create works that surprise us… Overall one can sense that your growing skill is giving you freedom to express both individually and to contribute to our cultural resurgence.”
The youth exhibit will be on display at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center through June 24. The Juried Art Show exhibit will be on display in the Nathan Jackson Gallery at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau through Dec. 3. The gallery also features SHI’s exhibit, Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land, which explores ancient place names and the innovative inventions that were used to catch halibut and salmon.
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com.