About the www.Alaskool.org project and its developers

Crystal Barr

A Contemporary Alaska Native art: Seal gut drawing in Juneau, Alaska

Photo submitted by C. Barr

 The Idea

Goldie got the idea of making seal gut drawings, all started with seal gut parkas, which were used for water repellent garments. Her mom, Cecelia, gave her left over materials that she had left, because Cecelia new that she did arts and crafts. Goldie had left the seal gut pieces in her closet for at least a couple of years, in the meantime think of ways to use them. The first thing she was going to do with the seal guts was use them for her dolls. But than one day she just decided to take them out and test it, by taking out pen and ink and then start to draw on it. As she was drawing she noticed how resilient it was and also discovered how much more durable it was than paper. After that she started to sew strips together by normal stitching (straight stitch). Shortly after that she had left to visit her family and showed her mom her artwork. Her mom started to show her different techniques that she had used to make seal gut parkas. Cecelia showed Goldie how to sew pieces together the traditional way with sinew and beach grass. From there her techniques evolved. She started to wash the seal guts and than flatten them to make a smoother surface to draw on. Than she got the idea of sewing multiple pieces together, ranging from 2-3+, in many different lengths of strips. After that she began to create all kinds of storylines, picture graphs of traditional lifestyle, and single drawings of animals on the seal guts. Now days Goldie adds a touch of color by dyeing the seal guts with various colors. She also accentuates her art work by adding little pieces of wolf fur.

The Process

The process of preparing seal guts is arduous. First, the intestines need to be soaked in salt water. After that the skin needs to be turned inside out and every inch needs to be cleaned with a dull instrument, like a spoon, getting all the blood vessals out and continually changing the water as it's being scraped. The intestine needs to be cleaned one more time and all the water squeezed out of it. Once you are finished with that you have to blow the intestine up like a balloon, it can be blown up 25 inches or more depending on the type of seal gut it is. Than you tie it to a pole, one end to another, and let it dry. It takes less than a day on a nice windy day. When it is all dry you take it down and split it with scissors and roll it up.

 The Art Work

First Strip:

This is a picture graph about a seal hunter taking his kayak out into the ocean and hunts in the early spring. This is a young boy that catches his first seal, which is shared by the villagers. If a big seal is caught than they give gifts to the young boy. They sometimes cut the meat up into thin pieces and are hung on drying racks (air dried) to save food for later.

Second Strip:

This is a picture graph in the end of May to the beginning of June, where it is herring season. Each male member of the families, goes out to fish. And all of the women of the families, clean the fish and prepare it for later use. Later on in the summer it is berry picking season. The kinds of berries that they pick are salmon berries, blueberries, and lagoon berries. The berries are used to make akutaq, which is Eskimo ice cream, made out of shortening, sugar, and berries.

Third Strip:

This is a picture graph of a celebration. One village invites another village for a celebration. The celebrations can be either a memorial, when a child gets a new name, or for a successful harvest of the year. They sing, dance, and food and gifts are given away.

*You can find Goldie's art at Portfolio Arts, in downtown Juneau, Alaska*