Students participate in Alaska Native arts program

By Sarah Day
Juneau, Alaska (AP) November 2010

Students at Gastineau Elementary got a taste of Alaska Native arts with a three-week-long Artist Residency program.

Mick Beasley, a local Tlingit artist, recently wrapped up his time with 110 third-through-fifth grade students by working on many projects with students. Beasley is working with Shgen George’s, Ben Kriegmont’s, Rocky Eddy’s, Mitch Haygood’s, Monika Haygood’s and Rebecca Watts’ classes.

They started out making custom copper bracelets. Students had to measure out sections on the piece of copper to know exactly where to bend it. They had to round out the ends, inscribe their names on the back, dome the top, create a design on the top and polish it.

“I was sure we would eat up five days with this project,” Beasley said. “By the end of two days they were saying, ‘what’s next?”’

They spent a lot of time making four origami-style paper canoes. One was a head canoe.

“It was last seen off the north end of Vancouver Island (in the 1700s),” Beasley said. “When explorers came up 20 years later they never saw one again.”

When canoes were seen again, the lower bow had been cut out, resembling the modern Haida canoe. So the students also crafted a Haida sea-going canoe. They also made a Tlingit spruce canoe and a Yakutat ice-breaker canoe.

Students were given the pattern and they colored with crayon on both sides of the paper.

“That made the little skin waterproof,” he said. “They were able to load it with crayons and float it. It was a good project. They were experts by the time we got to the fourth canoe for process.”

Students also developed a basketry design with a multitude of colors and fit them in a wide-mouth pint jar.

“They got their own personal container,” Beasley said.

The children also worked on a flying geese pattern and an ovoid project. Ovoids are predominant shapes in Tlingit art.

“I provided the faces and they did the coloring, cutting and they glued it on top of an ovoid shape they made,” Beasley said of the ovoid project. “Then we stacked them so it was kind of like a little totem pole.”

The final project included taking an ovoid shape and painting it onto a piece of wood. Each student’s piece will be formed into a circle.

“We’re going to call it our Douglas Rain Drop,” he said.

Beasley felt the students responded well to the Tlingit design projects.

“I would say, like any children, they like the process of doing – using their hands,” he said. “Gastineau, from my outside observation, is really a pro-Indian school. So for me, it was really worth it to put the effort out. ... It seems like the whole staff, they’re all geared to nurture and champion the human spirit.”

Artist In The Schools Program is made possible through partnerships between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmuson Foundation and Friends of Gastineau School.