About the www.Alaskool.org project and its developers

Traditional Tlingit Sculpturing
By Aaron Katzeek

Photo submitted by A. Katzeek

The reason I titled my paper Traditional Tlingit Sculpturing instead of carving was that sculpturing is more of an appropriate word then carving. Carving doesn't define Tlingit Art. Carving in the Webster's Dictionary says, "to cut (a solid material) so as to form something: to carve a piece of pine." Sculpturing is, "the art of carving, modeling, welding, or otherwise producing figurative or abstract works of art in three dimensions, as in relief, intaglio, or in the round." Sculpturing, like I said, defines this traditional activity more then carving. The traditional Tlingit artist I interviewed was Ross Sheakley. He's been an artist since he was thirteen years old. He's studied with his father Horace Marks who is a highly
acknowledged Tlingit artist. He also studied at the University of Washington with Bill Holmes, a highly acknowledged Northwest coast native artist, and got his Associative Arts degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks.


Q1: What clan are you from?
A: From the Eagle/Thunderbird Clan. His Father is from Daak dein taan, the Snail House. Fathers, fathers clan is Chooka nei di, the Bear clan from Hoonah, Glacier Bear People. His mother's fathers side is Lukax aadi the Sockeye/Raven, is Yeil hit, Raven house from Chilkoot(Haines). The tribal leader was
James Klanott, a highly respected tribal leader. His clan owned the famous Chilkoot Trail.

Q2: When did you first get interested in carving?
A: He first got interested in sculpturing when his grandma on his mothers side would sew and tell the dramatic presentation of traditional oral literature and oral history of the designs.

Q3: Who taught you how to carve?
A: His step father Horace Marks (Sockeye Clan) who is a highly acknowledged Tlingit Artist. First observed his step father carving for about two years before he gave him his first sculpturing tools. Was an apprentice, so to say. When he was fourteen his step father said to start carving. His first sculpture was of a wood worm mask. He took a carving class at the high school, taught by Peter Bibb. Mostly went there to carve. After high school went to UW to study with Bill Holmes. Well studying with Bill Holmes, he gave him a job at the Seattle science center, working on a long house. It's 45ft. wide and
75ft. long, carved the big screen out of red cedar. The planks too. All carved by hand, used wedges to carve it out. When he came back to Haines he worked with Leo Jacob's Sr. also a highly acknowledged Tlingit artist. For about a year an a half. After that, started making his own designs. Also studied at the
University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he got a Associative Arts degree.

Q4: What are some of the tools that were used along time ago?
A: A hook knife, straight knife in different size. Depending on what they were carving. Elbow ads, fire, hot rocks for shaping canoes, splitting awls for splitting wood, a big wooden mallet, made their own paint brushes, were also used for carving. Most of the tools were made by the carvers them self. Steam was also used for making bent wood boxes. String for measuring the designs, was also used.

Q5: What are some of the tools that are used today?
A: The tools that are used today are pretty much the same. The only difference is that there are a bigger variety of tools. Better steel, better paint brushes, better paint, better finishing tools like sand paper, better steam tools, for bending boxes. Some traditional ways are better then anything used today though. Like for carving canoes they would shape the canoe then drill holes and put wooden pegs for how thick they wanted their canoes to be. Then they would start to carve out the canoe.

Q6: Do all Tlingit carvings have a story behind it?
A: Old Traditional Tlingit carvings tell stories or history to the carving. Took the history or story to tell it in a carving.

Q7: How were the stories made up?
A: Who was commissioning the carvings would tell the story to the carver and they would put it down on wood. Also carving would be made by the opposite clan. Eagles would go to the ravens to carve the story or history they wanted carved. Carvings were not mixed. Like, there weren't love birds a long
time ago and now there are. So now a days carvers/sculpturists make love birds so its not all that traditional. Tribes would have carvings that told the history of their clan. You can't tell other clans history or stories unless you have permission. You also have to tell it perfectly, word for word. Can't take
anything away from the story or add anything to the story.

Q8: How would you pick what kind of carving to do for the story
or history?

A: To put it on a wall screen or totem pole was decided on the person who wanted the carving to be made. Stories were also told on blankets, or canoes, tunics, necklaces, and paddles.