Paul Gardinier, an exhibit specialist, works to install a Nathan Jackson retrospective in the gallery at the Walter Soboleff Center on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Paul Gardinier, an exhibit specialist, works to install a Nathan Jackson retrospective in the gallery at the Walter Soboleff Center on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

‘A great honor’: Exhibit shines light on one of Southeast Alaska’s most acclaimed Tlingit artists

Collection will include dozens of pieces from private collections, museums to celebrate career spanning decades

There’s always been a lot of Nathan Jackson artwork in Juneau, and there’s about to be a lot more.

Pieces by the prolific and acclaimed Tlingit artist can be found year-round at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building, University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Library, Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé among other places, but an upcoming exhibit will present an unprecedented and expansive collection of his work.

“I feel like this is a great honor,” Jackson said when reached by phone in Ketchikan. “I kind of feel like I’ve been doing my very best to do artwork and explore, but I didn’t do this all alone. There were people that had brought me out to the forefront, and I appreciate those individuals very much for what they’ve done.”

[Mending wounds through culture]

Steve Brown, who is Native arts curator for Sealaska Heritage Institute, a longtime acquaintance of and occasional collaborator with Jackson, is helping to curate an upcoming retrospective of Jackson’s work that will open April 5 at the Walter Soboleff Building. It will include about 60 pieces borrowed from private collections, museums and other sources to create a decades-spanning exhibit to highlight Jackson’s long and productive career.

“One of the outstanding things that I think makes Nathan’s work singular is he really from the beginning has looked at the old things for his inspiration,” Brown said. “Where a lot of the other Southeast Alaska Tlingit artists of that generation were working in a style or styles that had developed in the 20th century. His work is really exemplary for historic Tlingit style.”

Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson dons regalia at Celebration 2014. Courtesy Photo | Brian Wallace for Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson dons regalia at Celebration 2014. Courtesy Photo | Brian Wallace for Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Over a long career, Jackson has worked and continues to work in a number of media.

“We have masks, painted objects, hats, a basket, bent-corner boxes, bent-corner carved bowls,” Brown said. “We have some early works of his from his days before and after going to the Institute of the American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. It’s a fairly comprehensive spread of his career.”

Brown said care was taken in creating a Tlingit-language display that serves as a written, traditional introduction to Jackson that will be part of the exhibit.

“The only description that fits it is epic,” Brown said. “It is an epic presentation of Nathan, his life and his work in the Tlingit language with the translation.”

[Guys and Dolls now showing at Perseverance Theatre]

Jackson, now 80, said he started focusing on his art and carving in particular in his late 20s after serving in the Army and being hospitalized after contracting pneumonia that was suspected of being tuberculosis.

Afterward, he recalls fighting to make a living as a fisherman, working at a cannery and whatever other work he could find. However, he was aware of his artistic inclinations and after seeing a few people who appeared to be making good livings as artists, Jackson decided it could be in a viable career path.

One day, while walking along the beach in Metlakatla, Jackson, who is from Haines, observed red cedar had washed up on the shore, which he said was also an important moment in his career.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to stay here. There’s more wood here than I could ever get in Haines,’” Jackson said.

After attending the 1964 World’s Fair, Jackson said he decided to attend the Institute of the American Indian Arts, which further rounded out his artistic repertoire.

Brown said seeing all the pieces at once makes Jackson’s artistic growth over the decades observable.

“It’s hard to describe, but I would say there seems to be a point where he appeared to be really comfortable with sculpture, with his own style, so that you don’t see any sign of the work being labored or g fussed over, it looks like it must’ve just appeared like that,” Brown said.

[Healing history and undoing the silence]

Brown said he’s enjoyed compiling the collection, which will remain on display at the Walter Soboleff Building through Oct. 15.

“It’s been a lot of fun, I’ve known Nathan for 35 years — maybe more than that — maybe 40, maybe more than 40,” Brown said, evidently surprised by the accrued time. “A lot of the objects I was familiar with from when he made them. It’s been a little hectic catching up with everyone who has these works and transport them here.”

Plus, a lot of Jackson’s works have included totem poles and large screens that would be extremely difficult to transport and impossible to display with limited space. Instead, the exhibit will include photos of the works and information about where they are located.

Jackson said he would not consider any particular effort from the past 50-odd years to be his favorite piece because of the pace of his work.

Even now, Jackson said he and Brown are working together on a display for the Alaska State Museum. Brown is carving house posts, while Jackson is making a screen to appear with them.

“When I’m being commissioned to do something, I just go ahead and do it,” he said. “I can’t consider anything a favorite because there’s going to be more.”

• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

This bentwood box with lid was made by Nathan Jackson. (Courtesy Photo | Brian Wallace for Sealaska Heritage Institute)

This bentwood box with lid was made by Nathan Jackson. (Courtesy Photo | Brian Wallace for Sealaska Heritage Institute)

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he Week of April 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

The Hubbard, the newest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, docks at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on April 18. It is generally scheduled to provide dayboat service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. (Photo by Laurie Craig)
Ongoing Alaska Marine Highway woes are such that marketing to Lower 48 tourists is being scaled back

“We just disappoint people right now,” AMHS’ marine director says during online public forum Monday.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Senate considers plan that would allow teens to independently seek mental health care

Amendment by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, would lower the age for behavioral health care to 16

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 28, at the Alaska State Capitol. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
House approves tougher route for environmental protections on Alaska rivers, lakes

HB95 would require lawmakers approve any “Tier III” labeling, the highest level of federal protection.

Rep. Andi Story (left, wearing gray), Rep. Sara Hannan (center, wearing purple) and Sen. Jesse Kiehl (wearing suit) talk with constituents following a legislative town hall on Thursday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
All three members of Juneau’s legislative delegation seeking reelection

Reps. Andi Story and Sara Hannan, and Sen. Jesse Kiehl unopposed ahead of June 1 filing deadline

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, April 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The “Newtok Mothers” assembled as a panel at the Arctic Encounter Symposium on April 11 discuss the progress and challenges as village residents move from the eroding and thawing old site to a new village site called Mertarvik. Photographs showing deteriorating conditions in Newtok are displayed on a screen as the women speak at the event, held at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities

Newtok-to-Mertarvik transformation has been decades in the making.

Bailey Woolfstead, right, and her companion Garrett Dunbar examine the selection of ceramic and wood dishes on display at the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on behalf of the Glory Hall at Centennial Hall on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empty Bowls provides a full helping of fundraising for the Glory Hall

Annual soup event returns to Centennial Hall as need for homeless shelter’s services keeps growing.

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and her husband Greg. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)
Greg Weldon, husband of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon, killed in motorcycle accident Sunday morning

Accident occurred in Arizona while auto parts store co-owner was on road trip with friend

Most Read