Anchorage, AK – Rasmuson Foundation today announces Alvin Amason of Anchorage and Kodiak Island as its 2018 Distinguished Artist. The award recognizes one Alaska artist annually for a lifetime of creative excellence and outstanding contributions to the state’s arts and culture. The honor is accompanied by a $40,000 award.
Alvin Eli Amason is a Sugpiaq – or Alutiiq – painter and sculptor. He was born in 1948 and raised on Kodiak Island, where his family has a rich history of trapping, fox farming, commercial fishing and bear guiding. He is an art professor who has taught students from tiny Alaska villages and many countries. His artwork draws upon his memories of childhood, his elders and specific places on Kodiak Island. He also explores his love and respect for the natural world through his art.
“I paint Alaskan animals of today,” says Amason, “I’m glad I have my heritage, but I don’t want to rely on it. Culture just doesn’t work if it is put on a shelf, in a jar, in a museum. It is a living thing. Time goes on and cultural elements change.”
His family has two islands on the east side of Kodiak. “The ‘outside’ is land was good for gardens and seal hunting as it had many reefs but was exposed to swift changes in weather,” explains the artist. The ‘inside’ island, known as Eli’s Island after his grandfather, was, in Amason’s words, “a beauty.” In earlier days it was a blue fox farm, then a trapping and fish camp.
“It was around these islands we learned so much,” he says. “How to pick bird eggs, get octopus, dig clams, watch and predict the weather, and know the safe beaches in a storm.” As a young man, Amason fished the island and his grandmother’s village of Chignik for salmon. Farther north, he and his brother fished for herring around walruses. These experiences, he says, provided him with “a lifetime of ideas for making art.”
Amason’s work is prominently featured in the Anchorage Museum’s Art of the North gallery in the new Rasmuson Wing. “Papa Says Seals Are One Bump, Otters are Two, There Goes Steve Harvey!” (2017) depicts a sculptural seal emerging from a painted sea, as a Grumman Widgeon floatplane of his Kodiak friend flies overhead.
Museum director Julie Decker says that the decision to showcase several monumental multimedia pieces by the artist recognizes his significance on many levels.
“Alvin Amason has made a tremendous impact in Alaska as an artist, an educator and a compelling voice for Alaska Native arts, indigenous knowledge and communities. His work illustrates integral connections between place, landscape, values and the continuum of indigenous identities,” Decker says. “I have long admired Alvin’s commitment to art making, to storytelling, and to being active in making our communities stronger. This is a well-deserved award.”
Over his long career, Amason has had studios in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, California and Washington state, as well as Alaska. His art has been featured in solo exhibitions and invitational group shows in the United States and internationally. His works are housed in the permanent collections of many major institutions, including the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, and Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg in Denmark.
“Besides being one of the most recognizable, iconic and beloved artists in Alaska, Alvin is uncommonly generous. He is an inspiration and mentor to many other artists, young and old, and gives of himself constantly,” says Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and chief executive officer. “He is a true Alaska original, so worthy of the Distinguished Artist recognition.”
Amason received a Master of Art from Central Washington University and a Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University. Amason worked for several years for the Navajo Nation as Art Department chair and instructor at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. He served as director of Native Arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1992 until his retirement in 2009. He then joined the Art Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage to develop an Alaska Native Arts curriculum and studio.
He has served on the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the boards of the Institute of Alaska Native Arts and the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. Earlier this year, he was recognized with the Governor’s Individual Artist Award for Arts and Humanities. He continues to enjoy teaching, encouraging young artists and making new work.
This is the 15th year for our Individual Artist Awards, which support arts and culture by putting money directly into the hands of artists. Our full slate of 2018 recipients – topped by the Distinguished Artist award – will be announced Friday.
Learn about all of the Foundation-recognized Distinguished Artists at our new web page.
About the Foundation
Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband “E.A.” Rasmuson. Through grantmaking and initiatives, the Foundation is a catalyst to promote a better life for all Alaskans.