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Joaqlin Estus

We all have foods we grew up with, that make us think of home.

Salmon is like that for many Alaska Natives.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts Contemporary Art Bank recently purchased a painting of a jar of salmon by Danielle Larsen, who is Koyukon Athabascan, Inupiaq, and Aleut. 

Oil on canvas painting "Candy Salmon" by Danielle Larsen, Anchorage, AK, July 11, 2022 (Photo courtesy of Danielle Larsen)

She said the subject of the painting is tied to memories of her childhood, especially her father. His style of curing and smoking resulted in “candy salmon,” or sweet savory salmon sticks, which he then canned.

“It's jarred salmon, Kippered salmon. My dad used to make it all the time and it’s kind of a homage to my dad. I've always tried to keep some kind of smoked salmon in a lot of my paintings, ‘cause he would make it all the time and I really missed him after he passed away. It was a way to keep connected,” Larsen said.

She’s excited that her painting was accepted into the art bank. “I just like people to feel joy when they see it and nostalgia and bring back memories of good times with family. That's what I want people to hopefully see and feel when they look at my paintings.”

This painting by Danielle Larsen depicts the meeting of her grandparents on the island of St. Paul, which is famous for its seal rookeries, with excerpts of short stories by her father, John Larsen, Jr.  Anchorage, AK July 11, 2022 (Photo courtesy of Danielle Larsen)

Art bank Manager Jade Aldridge said Larsen’s use of Native foods as the subject of her paintings, “really resonated with our jury group. It's very playful and I think it's very nostalgic. Everyone has a connection to food, even if it's not necessarily the foods that you grew up with or eat in your own family and culture. But there's just something about seeing a display of food that I think makes everyone feel really good and think about their own relationship with food and their family.”

George Gardner with some of his artwork (Courtesy of George Gardner)

For George Gardner, Tlingit and Haida, his artwork also stems from family ties. His father began teaching him wood carving and painting when he was just 7 or 8 years old. Now, he carves and paints red cedar, yellow cedar, and select pine into paddles. The paddles are painted in the formline style of Pacific Northwest tribes. They’re decorative and also can be used in traditional dancing to display the clan crest of the person carrying it.

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The art bank purchased four paddles by Gardner.

“One was a Bear, another was a Wolf, then an Eagle and a Raven, and they are all inlaid with copper,” he said.

Gardner said he likes the idea of people enjoying his work in their home or an office and when performing but he’s also looking toward future generations.

Eagle, raven, wolf, bear by Geo Gardner

“The thing that I've always strived for when I do my artwork is to teach the youth. Hopefully the youth will catch on and start learning this artwork. You know, the culture, the carvings, for not only my paddles, but totems or masks or whatever, they would choose their path to follow … It's, my whole goal that somebody, somewhere, it catches their eye and they go, ‘oh, I wanna learn this. I would love to learn to do this,’” he said.

“There's not a lot of paddle makers out there that are putting the artwork out because it's fading away. That's all I can say. It's fading away. And I will just love the youth to carry it on into the future,” Gardner said.

Aldridge said Gardner’s work “is just so incredible, like his craftsmanship of the paddles themselves and his intricate line work and painting. I think the jurors were all just really in awe of his technical skill.”

Killer whale by Geo Gardner

Also, she said, “finding sculptural works that we think will stand the test of time and that we feel good about mailing around the state is important to us. And we don't want to have something necessarily that's incredibly fragile. So his paddles, they felt like a good investment and a good piece that we could with good conscience send around the state and get into different offices.”

The art bank loans pieces to state offices for display in public places. This year the art bank received 861 submissions from 194 artists. Of the artists, 14 were selected for this year’s acquisitions.

The art council’s website said the art bank was created in 1975 to “expose more Alaskans to high quality work by contemporary Alaskan artists through the loaning of original art to public offices throughout Alaska and to invest in Alaska’s creative industry through direct purchase of artists’ work.”

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