The permanent, monumental art in a cultural center under construction in Juneau will feature master works by some of the most renowned Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artists in the world, Sealaska Heritage Institute announced Tuesday.
The cedar-clad exterior of the Walter Soboleff building will feature huge, 40-foot panels designed by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will give the center a dramatic façade unlike any other structure in Southeast Alaska. Upon entering the main foyer, visitors will see an enormous carved-and-painted Tsimshian clan house front by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. An interior clan house space will showcase a spectacular carved glass house screen flanked by two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.
All three tribal groups of the region will be represented in monumental art made by some of the best artists of our time, said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI), which is building the facility.
“Robert Davidson, David Boxley and Preston Singletary are some of the biggest names in Northwest Coast Native art. They are internationally renowned and recognized for their work,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “We have a dream team.”
The Davidson panels will be based on his original painting “Greatest Echo,” which the artist donated to SHI’s recent Tináa Art Auction, a fundraiser for the Walter Soboleff building. The design represents a supernatural being called the Greatest Echo—a theme chosen by Davidson because the building’s namesake “echoed the past to bring it to the present.” The design will be replicated on metal panels, a medium recommended by SHI’s Native Artist Committee.
Northwest Coast Native art expert and teacher Steve Brown will create formline that matches the designs on the panels for the glass awnings encircling the building. When illuminated from above, the formline on the glass will be cast onto the sidewalk.
At almost 40 feet wide by 15 feet high, Boxley’s piece—which he is making with his son, Tsimshian artist David R. Boxley—will be one of the largest, if not the largest, carved-and-painted Tsimshian house front in the world.
“It’s unique because of its sheer size and because it’s carved and painted,” Boxley said. “Tsimshian house fronts usually are painted but not carved.”
Boxley’s design was inspired by the style and complexity of old Tsimshian house fronts.
The house front will tell the Tsimshian story The Man Who Held up the Earth. The center of the front will incorporate a small door, where a man will be depicted holding the land above him. The people on the land will be depicted at the top of the front and flanked by the four Tsimshian crests—Raven and Killerwhale on the left and Eagle and Wolf on the right.
Singletary’s piece will be the largest glass screen in the world, measuring 17 feet wide and 12 feet high at its peak and rendered in carved, amber-and-black glass. It will be flanked by two, glass seven-foot posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors.
SHI requested that warriors be incorporated into the design because they symbolize the protectors of our land and culture. Native people in the region were historically formidable in battle but they also became combatants in political, legal and educational battles, said Worl.
“When Russia ‘sold’ Alaska to the United States, our clan leaders met and weighed whether to wage war. They concluded they could not win a military encounter against the U.S., so they hired a lawyer and waged a successful battle for land claims,” she said.
Singletary’s piece was supported in part by a grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of leading national and regional foundations, banks and federal agencies accelerating creative placemaking across the US. Singletary’s piece was also funded by an anonymous donor, which also funded the pieces by Davidson and Boxley. The grand opening for the building will be in Spring of 2015.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.