Nathan Jackson, a Ketchikan-based traditional woodcarver and sculptor, was named a 2021 USA Fellow by United States Artists, an organization dedicated to supporting artists. The award was announced in a news release on Wednesday.
His award represents the traditional arts category, where he is one of seven winners. According to the announcement, “USA Fellowships are awarded to artists at all stages of their careers and from all areas of the country through a rigorous nomination and panel selection process.”
Winners receive $50,000 that they are free to use based on their needs.
“Nathan Jackson is an iconic woodcarver, and we are incredibly excited to announce him as one of the 2021 cohort of bold makers shaping our country,” said United States Artists Program Director Lynnette Miranda, in a statement to the Juneau Empire Wednesday.
“In selecting each fellowship class, our panelists consider each artist’s vision as well as their impact within their artistic field and broader community. The panelists were deeply impressed by Nathan’s masterful skill as a woodcarver and sculptor and also by his demonstrated commitment to furthering this traditional practice. Through his mentorship and teaching, Nathan has done outstanding work ensuring the continuation of this tradition and preserving it for future generations,” Miranda said.
Local organizations also shared congratulations when the award was announced.
“Alaska can celebrate that one of its most renowned Indigenous master artists, Nathan Jackson, Yéil Yaìdi, has been bestowed this national recognition,” Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl told the Juneau Empire in an email on Wednesday.
“He brings us great honor. As the late David Kingeistiì Katzeek said of Nathan, ‘In the way that a creativity comes through him, the way his work shines with a brilliance, it is just as if the ancestors have been present to his mind. That is why you see such brilliance in his work,’” she added.
A long and varied career
Jackson is a prolific artist, and his work is well known to many people in Southeast Alaska. Examples of his work abound in Juneau. He carved the Aak’w Tribe Totem at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and the Box of Daylight Totem outside the Sealaska Corporation building. Both were completed with assistance from fellow artist Steven C. Brown and are included on the Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s Totem Poles Around Juneau checklist.
In 2019, a career retrospective at the Walter Soboleff Building featured Jackson’s work, including about 60 pieces borrowed from private collections, museums and other sources to highlight Jackson’s long and productive career.
In addition, his art can be found at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Library.
Jackson has carved more than 50 totem poles, some in international locations and museums, for public art and private collections. He also creates masks and smaller items, does traditional-style woodcarving, jewelry and design, according to a biography released with the award announcement.
Southeast Alaska is home to other USA Fellows
Jackson is in good company, becoming the third Southeast Alaska-based artist to receive the award in the past two years.
He joins 2020 USA Fellows Ketchikan-based Delores Churchill, a Haida weaver, and Lani Strong Hotch, a Northwest Coast textile artist based in Klukwan. Overall, Jackson is the seventh Southeast Alaska-based artist and the 16th Alaska-based artist named a fellow since the program’s inception in 2006, based on a review of past winners on the United States Artist’s website.
About the award
Sixty artists across 10 creative disciplines received the honor this year, the largest fellows class in the organization’s 15-year history, according to United States Artists.
According to the organization’s website, individual artists are anonymously nominated to apply for the award. Winners are selected by discipline-specific panels who select finalists, which are then approved by the board of trustees.
“Artists are at the core of their communities, and as the difficulties of the past year have demonstrated, it is more important than ever that we continue to support individual artists,” said Ed Henry, USA Board Chair in a news release. “And as we continue to meet the challenges 2021 will bring, it is also clear that USA must remain nimble and responsive to the needs of the field, which is why we are honored to be able to support the largest cohort in our history with sixty artists this year.”
Jackson has deep roots in Southeast Alaska
As part of the award’s announcement, United States Artists released this official biography of Jackson:
“Nathan Paul Jackson was born into the Sockeye Clan on the Raven side of the Chilkoot-Tlingit tribe. Jackson was raised in Southeastern Alaska, spending most of his time in the Haines area. Much of his early education in his Tlingit heritage was conducted by his clan uncle and grandfather.
“Upon completion of his military service in Germany in 1959, he returned to Alaska. After two years of carving and commercial fishing, he enrolled at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. There he specialized in fabric design, silkscreen, and graphics.
“In 1964, he returned to Haines, where he began working with Alaska Indian Arts and taught woodblock and silk-screen techniques for Manpower Development. He also participated as a member of the Chilkat Dancers. Since 1967, he has been a freelance artist doing traditional-style woodcarving, jewelry, and design, usually on a commission basis.
“He has been an instructor in woodcarving and design at the Alaska State Museum, Sheldon Jackson College, Totem Heritage Center, and the University of Alaska. He has also had several apprentices working under him in conjunction with the Native Apprenticeship Program, sponsored by Alaska State Council on the Arts, as well as with a totem project in Saxman, a native village two miles south of Ketchikan.”
•Contact Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.