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: Yadaa.at 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 bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. 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

Even as coronavirus numbers are going down and vaccines are being distributed, pandemic-related facilities like the testing site at Juneau International Airport, seen here in this Oct. 12 file photo, are scheduled to remain for some time, according to city health officials. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Vaccines are coming, but pandemic facilities will remain

Testing sites and other COVID-19 operations will continue, officials say, but infections are trending down.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., join other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Murkowski on impeachment: ‘I will listen carefully’ to both sides

As for timing, the senator said, “our priority this week must be to ensure safety in Washington, D.C.”

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021

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

Juneau City Hall. The City and Borough of Juneau has distributed nearly $5 million in household and individual assistance grants since October. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
All housing and most personal assistance grants processed

About $5 million in aid is flowing to households and individuals in Juneau.

A child plays at Capital School Park. The park is in line for a remodel that will fix the crumbling retaining wall, visible in the background. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
A new life is in store for Capital School Park

Public input is helping craft a vision for the park’s voter-approved facelift.

Expected heavy snow and high winds Thursday evening prompted Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to issue a warning of increased avalanche hazard along Thane Road. (File photo)
Avalanche risk increasing along Thane Road

Be careful and plan for the possibility of an extended road closure.

White House, tribes joined to deliver Alaska Native vaccines

The initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Friday, Jan. 8

The most recent state and local numbers.

Federal report says pandemic hit seafood industry hard

Catch brought to the docks fell 29% over the course of the first seven months of the year.

Most Read