Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Famous carver Amos Wallace’s documents headed for public archive

Amos Wallace was a keeper. So his longtime home on Juneau’s Douglas Island held numerous documents from his nearly 70-year career.
Since he and his wife Dorothy passed away, their son, photographer Brian Wallace, has been going through the collection.
“I was in the basement in the earlier part of this year and I opened up some boxes of stuff and I saw some photos that I’ve never seen before, and unfortunately I found this,” Brian Wallace says.
“This” was a pair of black-and-white, historic photographs showing the elder Wallace with a totem pole he carved in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Both were badly damaged by water.
“I did not want this disaster to happen to the rest of the collection. So I immediately started putting everything together and organizing the archive and then I took it down to Sealaska Heritage [Institute]. And now it’s in a very safe place where it will be preserved for generations,” he says.
The Juneau-based heritage institute preserves and advances Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture. It’s planning a new building, the Walter Soboleff Center, to house a growing physical collection, a digital library, classrooms and display space.
That will include the Wallace collection.
“In terms of going out and meeting the rest of the world, Amos was that ambassador for Tlingit people and for Tlingit art,” says Rosita Worl, the institute’s president.
She says Amos Wallace was an important artist and craftsman.
“He definitely brought attention to our art, nationally and internationally,” Worl says.

A drawing of a Frog image Amos Wallace created before carving. Image courtesy Brian Wallace and Sealaska Heritage Institute.
“And it certainly takes a person with character to do that,” says Zachary Jones, archivist and collections manager for the institute.
He says Wallace was enthusiastic about his culture and generous with his knowledge.
“He was there showcasing Alaska statehood, as sort of this Alaska Native representative to different people across the nation. [He was] on the Tonight Show, at museums, really sort of an individual teaching the Lower 48 about Alaska Native art,” Jones says.
Jones and Worl say the collection is comprehensive – something that’s not often seen. It includes notes, drawings, photographs and newspaper clippings in Tlingit art.
“You get to see the breadth of the artist’s life. You can see the evolution of his work from an early age to his later years. You can really see the beauty, the depth and aspects of his life that I think we really like to celebrate,” Jones says.
Amos Wallace began carving under the tutelage of his older brother, Lincoln, when he was seven years old. He went to boarding school at the old Wrangell Institute, and studied with respected carver Horace Marks.
He served in the Army in World War II, then spent more than a decade carving small totems with his brother for a Pacific Northwest wholesaler.
As the collection shows, he moved onto a larger stage.

A young Amos Wallace poses for a Fourth of July parade photo. Courtesy Brian Wallace.
“This is the totem pole that is now in the Brooklyn Children’s Museum,” says Brian Wallace, Amos’ son, as he pulls up a digitized photo from his father’s collection.
“He carved this totem pole in New York City in 1958 for a big department store in Brooklyn called Abraham and Strauss. Several local people in town grew up [there] and said, ‘Hey, yeh, I know that.’ They probably even went and saw my dad carving at one time when they were little kids,” Brian Wallace says.
The elder Wallace did more than carve when he was in New York. He talked to schoolchildren and others about his art, culture and traditions. That led to his “Tonight Show” appearance, back when it was hosted by Jack Paar.
The department store totem later moved to a new location, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Brian Wallace pulls up another photo, showing his dad wearing a traditional Chilkat blanket and a woven spruce-root hat.
“This photo was taken the day the totem pole was dedicated. He’s standing there with a little girl and [on cards] he has the Tlingit words for ‘new totem pole’ and words for ‘my country – Alaska’ in Tlingit here,” he says.
The Amos Wallace collection also documents totem carvings at Disneyland, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and museums in Cincinnati, Toronto and Boston.
In addition, the archive includes numerous drawings, such as clan crests, on graph paper. They’re images that became totems, or smaller wooden carvings, or metal jewelry.
“This killer whale here is a common motif he worked on throughout the years. You can see the finished carving of this in the Smithsonian Institution. I’ve seen it in pendants and I’ve seen it in bracelets that he’s made, so this is one of his favorite killer whale designs,” he says. (See more Wallace pieces in the Smithsonian collection.)
Parts of the archive are already digitized. Others wait to be scanned or otherwise preserved for future use.
Worl of the heritage institute says the drawings will be teaching tools. And the whole collection will attract artists and art historians.
“When I look at some of the pieces, I recognize them, as older pieces you don’t see any more. Nowadays the art has gotten more simple, it’s broader. But when you go back and look at the early pieces … I see it in his work,” Worl says.
Parts of the collection are more personal, showing Alaska Native Brotherhood events, or Orthodox Church services. There also are family events, including Amos taking his young son Brian to his first day of kindergarten.
Watch a video of Brian Wallace talking about his father, Amos Wallace, with more photos from his life. Watch below or at this link. It’s from Kathy Dye of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sealaska Heritage Institute Receives $31,718 Battlefield Preservation Grant

National Park Service supports preservation efforts

WASHINGTON - The Sealaska Heritage Institute has received a grant of $31,718 from the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to delineate the extent of the 1869 Battle of Wrangell, map out the course of the battle, and raise public awareness about the little known conflict. "We are proud to support projects like this that safeguard and preserve American battlefields," said Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service. "These places are symbols of individual sacrifice and national heritage that we must protect so that this and future generations can understand the struggles that define us as a nation."

This grant is one of 27 National Park Service grants totaling $1.35 million to preserve and protect significant battle sites from all wars fought on American soil. Funded projects preserve battlefields from the Colonial Indian Wars through World War II and include site mapping (GPS/GIS data collection), archeological studies, National Register of Historic Places nominations, preservation and management plans.

Federal, state, local, and Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions are eligible for National Park Service battlefield grants which are awarded annually. Since 1996 more than $14 million has been awarded by ABPP to help preserve significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil. Additional information is online at www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp. 

Photo credit: Oversize cabinet card photograph showing a view of the Chief Shakes house at Wrangell, Alaska, photo by S.R. Stoddard, 1892. PO049-72; Richard Wood Collection, Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Collection includes hundreds of formline drawings made by master carver

The son of the late, master carver Amos Wallace has donated his father’s collection of drawings and historical photographs and papers to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI).

The collection, donated by Brian Wallace, is a treasure trove of original drawings made by the famous artist as he was designing totem poles and other carvings destined for museums, universities and private collections. Brian donated it to the institute because he wanted it to be archived and shared at SHI’s Walter Soboleff Center, scheduled to break ground next year. 

“It’s really exciting to me that the Walter Soboleff Center is going to be built soon and my dad’s archive is going to be in there—in the center that was named after one of his best friends,” Wallace said. “It is a very, very profound, meaningful thing for me and the rest of the family that his artwork will be preserved there and be shared.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said she was deeply moved by the  donation and the generosity of Brian Wallace. 

“Well it’s extraordinary—an extraordinary gift on the part of Brian Wallace. I’m just so pleased about receiving this collection,” said Worl, adding the institute will be able to use the collection to teach Tlingit designs to aspiring artists.

“We always hear master artists telling younger artists that they should study older pieces, and in this case we have the actual drawings of an artist. And, I know that our art department is going to be using it in its teaching of Northwest Coast art formline,” she said.

Amos was one of a few Native artists making Tlingit art in the mid-20th century, said Brian Wallace, noting his father is given a lot of credit for helping to keep the art form alive.

The collection includes hundreds of sketches of crests, totem poles, plaques, and jewelry designs. Some are completed drawings while others are “snippets of ideas,” Brian said. It also includes photographs of Amos and his work and papers he collected during a lifetime of fighting for Native civil rights through the Alaska Native Brotherhood, where he served three times as Grand President.

Amos was born to Anna and Frank Thomas in Hoonah in 1920. His Tlingit name was Jeet Yaaw Dustaa. He was a Raven from the T’akdeintaan Clan, Sockeye House of Glacier Bay and Hoonah by way of Lituya Bay. He had an older brother, Lincoln, who taught him to carve when Amos was seven. Amos went to boarding school at the Wrangell Institute, where he studied and carved with Horace Marks. He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and fought in World War II. After the war, he returned to Juneau and began making small totem poles with his brother. They traveled to Seattle, where they spent a year carving, then to Portland, Oregon, where they carved for eleven years for a wholesaler.

In 1958, Amos was commissioned to build a 14-foot totem pole for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and that summer, he was invited onto “The Tonight Show” and interviewed by host Jack Paar.

“Dad joked that he was the very first Tlingit tv star,” Brian said.

He went on to make many more carvings, including totem poles for Disneyland, the state of Oregon, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Pioneer Park (formerly Alaskaland Park) in Fairbanks and museums in Cincinnati, Toronto and Boston. His work also is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. Amos Wallace “Walked Into The Forest” in 2004 at the age of 83.

SHI has produced a video of an interview with Brian Wallace about his father, his work, and his donation to SHI and posted it online.

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.

CONTACT: Rosita Worl, 907-463-4844; Brian Wallace, 907-321-0869.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

SHI Awarded Grant to Support Collections Management Internship

A grant from the Alaska State Museum has allowed SHI to offer a collections management internship to Kelsey Potdevin, a Ph.D. student in History at University of Iowa with a museum background. Potdevin has spent time at various museums in the United States, most recently at the Indian Arts Research Center in Santa Fe, and offers a wealth of experience and professionalism to SHI's collections. The 2013 Grant-in-Aid award will allow Kelsey to assist SHI in caring for and preserving its ethnographic collection.

Photo Credit; Kelsey Potdevin working on the Raven hat of the late Nancy Jackson (1925-2012), recently donated to SHI. Photo by Zachary R. Jones. 

When asked about her work at SHI Kelsey stated "I’m grateful for the opportunity to work as an SHI intern this summer. After spending the winter learning valuable collections care skills at the Indian Arts Research Center in Santa Fe, NM I was ready to put my new skills to use within my home community. Here at SHI, my projects have included recording new objects in the accession registry, working within the museum database, rehousing objects in archival storage boxes, and constructing mounts. Recently, I carved a foam mount designed to support the delicate elements of a copper trimmed sheep’s horn ladle, an object that was probably carved over 150 years ago. I also had the opportunity to examine the condition of some recently acquired works of the celebrated Jim Schoppert.  The latest project that has come my way has been to adapt costume boxes to house the Raven Dance Regalia of the recently passed Nancy Jackson. I’m thankful for the chance to contribute to the safekeeping of Jackson’s cherished performance piece until it can again be shared publicly in the newly erected Walter Soboleff Center." 

Sealaska Heritage Institute was 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.

This project is supported by a Grant-in Aid from the Alaska State Museum.