Ariane Xay Kuyaas Medley is presented her Best of Endangered Division award from Joe Nelson at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Juried Art Competition award ceremony at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Medley went on to win the Best of Show. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Spruce root basket wins Best of Show at Native art show

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Ursala Hudson’s first name. It’s Ursala, not Ursula. Her winning piece “Inside Out” was also incorrectly identified as “Raven Dance Cape.”

Ariane Xay Kuyaas may take months or even a year designing and constructing a spruce root basket.

All that time was worth it, she said, after she received the “Best of Show” prize at the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Juried Art Show competition at the Walter Soboleff Building Wednesday afternoon.

“For me, it means everything because I come from a line of spruce root weavers,” Kuyaas said. “My great-great nani was Isabella Ednenshaw and she was married to Charles Edenshaw. My nani was Florence Davidson and she was a renowned weaver. My nani Primrose Adams is a renown weaver, and my mentor Isabel Rorick is a renowned weaver. So, I have been trying to follow in that line for most of my life.”

Kuyaas said winning the award came as a surprise.

“I never expected to win anything,” Kuyaas said.

She also described that weaving a spruce root basket is more work than one may think.

“Weaving is very hard and there is spruce root collecting and cleaning,” Kuyaas. “You have to source in the collecting, the cooking, the cleaning, the designing and finally the weaving.”

Another multiple award winner was Robert Mills. Mills won “Best of Division” for the Carving &Sculpture category and also won for painting in the “2D &Relief Carving Division.” He said that when he won, it was more than just himself on stage.

“There have been numerous people in my journey who you did not see up on stage that definitely support me in what I do, and I would not have received any award without them and their knowledge,” Mills said.

Mills added that the tradition of making a living by creating artwork has also inspired him.

“For thousands of years, clans and nations up and down the coast been using art as transactions and it has provided an economy,” Mill said. “I think if we take care of it, it will continue to do so for thousands more.”

The Juried Art Show and Juried Youth Art is part of Celebration, Sealaska’s four-day biennial festival celebrating Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. The Juried Art Show includes more than 40 works by nearly 30 different artists. These works are on display in the Nathan Jackson Gallery at the Walter Soboleff Building until Sept. 30.

The Juried Art Youth Art Exhibit features 30 pieces by 25 individual young artists from Anchorage, Angoon, Craig, Juneau, Ketchikan, Klawock, Metlakatla, Sitka and Ward Cove. The works are on exhibit at Juneau Arts &Culture Center until June 30.

Rosita Worl, President of Sealaska Heritage Institute, said the art on display and Northwest Coast art, in general, is something that should not be taken for granted.

“We all grew up with Northwest Coast Art,” Worl said. “We don’t really understand the significance of it because it is part of our everyday life. When I really started looking at art, I really saw just how unique our art is.”

The youth juror, Lance Twitchell, said the art he judged for the competition was a reflection of the artist’s heritage. Kinsie Kuyaadaa Young won first place in the middle school division and Haleigh Ebbighausen won first in the high school divisions.

“From the art I saw, I could see your ancestors,” Twitchell said. “I was blown away.”

The awards Mills received he said gives him the satisfaction that he made the right choice in his life.

“It is validation that I am not crazy,” Mills said. “I used to commercial fish and I was fairly successful at it and I just gave it up to do this. Everybody thought I was crazy because I was successful at what I did. I went into this field that has a lot of uncertainties and unknowns. So, to receive these awards is validation that I am on the right path.”


Juried Art Show Complete List of Winners

Carving &Sculpture

Wood — Robert Mills (Mask, X’átu)

Metal — Sam Sheakley (Pendant Ku.éex’ Spirit)

Best of Division — Robert Mills (Mask, X’átu)

2D &Relief Carving Division

Painting — Robert Mills (Cedar, bentwood box “Raven’s Portal”)

Relief Carving — TJ Young (Hlats’ux (Northern Lights))

Best of Division — TJ Young (Hlats’ux (Northern Lights))

Sewing Division

Beadwork — Harmony Hoss (Frog Box)

Capes &Robes Regalia — Libby Watanabe (Raven Dance Cape)

Skin &Fur — Jennie Wheeler (Raven Dance Cape)

Best of Divsion — Harmony Hoss (Frog Box)

Weaving Division

Chilkat-inspired — Ursala Hudson (Inside Out)

Basketry — Deborah Head-Aanutein (Basket, Remember Us)

Best of Division — Ursala Hudson (Inside Out)

Endangered Art Division

Spruce Root Baskestry — Ariane Xay Kuyaas (Spruce Root Baskest)

Formline awards

1st place — Robert Mills (Cedar, bentwood box Raven’s Portal); 2nd place — TJ Young (Hlats’ux (Northern Lights)

Best of Show

Ariane Xay Kuyaas (Spruce Root Basket)

Middle School Awards

1st place — Kinsie Kuyaadaa Young (Lightning Headband); 2nd place — Laci Lowery (Steam Bent Spruce Bracelet with Eagle Hummingbird Design)

High School Awards

1st place — Haleigh Ebbighausen (Octopus); 2nd place — Bianca Adams (Dajáangaa); 3rd place — Drena Hayward (Killerwhale)

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

Ariane Xay Kuyaas’ spruce root basket that won “Best of Show.” (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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