The Haines Sheldon Museum has received a $1,000 Art Acquisition Fund Award from Museums Alaska and the Rasmuson Foundation to acquire “Raven stealing the light,” an engraved silver bracelet by Native artist and Haines resident Rob Martin.

Martin said he dreamed of the design for this bracelet after reading Tlingit stories to his daughter. “I could see what I needed it to be, so I took quite a bit of time making the design,” he said.

The 2- by 6-inch silver bracelet tells the story of Raven stealing light. “It’s a creation story, it’s how light came to the world,” said museum director, Helen Alten. “It gets told a lot in a lot of different variation. Given our background as a Tlingit stronghold, it’s important.”

Thirty-six-year-old Martin is a Chilkat Tlingit Kaagwaantaan from the Eagle clan Killer Whale House. His ancestors are from Klukwan, and include master Tlingit artists, Daisy Philips, famous for her bead work, and Joe Ta-gook, a master totem pole carver.

But Martin grew up in Anchorage, largely disconnected from his Tlingit heritage, he said. In Anchorage, “people would ask me if I was an Eskimo a lot, or if I was Mexican or Asian. They really couldn’t tell,” said Martin. “A lot of my family was Christian. I didn’t know what to think about (Tlingit culture).”

Martin said his interest in Tlingit culture and art began while he was serving in the Iraq War.

“I went back for a second tour (in 2005), and something that I noticed from the Iraqi people was how much they were into their religion, how they were starving and they didn’t have anything, and a lot of their homes were destroyed and they were making do with what they had. They were trying to make schools and police stations and we helped them do a lot of that stuff.”

He said these observations made him wonder more about his own heritage. “I started digging in my free time. There was a small library on our base. I actually found some books about Alaskan history,” he said.

“I started learning more about my culture, and that gave me a lot of strength to keep powering through. So, I asked (Marsha Hotch) in Klukwan if she could send me any information about the culture, and she did.”

When Martin came back to the U.S. he did not return to his home in Anchorage. He moved to Haines, and lived with his grandfather, Mike Case.

“There’s only so much you can get from books,” said Martin. “Our culture is an oral culture.”

He sought out a master carver to apprentice with. “Nobody would teach me. Wayne Price said he would teach me, but he was too busy initially,” said Martin. Then a friend directed Martin to master silver engraver Greg Horner.

“Greg taught me quality over quantity, and so he’d always press that on me,” said Martin. Later, Martin studied under Price as well.

As Martin has progressed as a silver engraver, he has modernized traditional formline styles for his work. In the bracelet Sheldon acquired, “parts of (Raven’s) wing are cut off and parts of the wing are full. Parts of the rays of lights—I didn’t do anything to. More is less and less is more. I was playing with that concept,” said Martin.

“I crosshatched the background in between each ray. I wanted it to look as if you’re looking through parts of the raven, as if he’s translucent. As if you’re seeing through some of these cuts,” he said.

Martin is one of the few active silver carvers in Haines, according to the Sheldon Museum. “The other two are much older and starting to find that carving silver is too physically demanding,” the museum wrote in their grant application. The museum is the only institution that collects art and culture of the entire Chilkat Valley. Martin’s piece will be the museum’s fifth silver Tlingit bracelet with a named artist. The museum has a total of 12, and eight of the artists are unnamed. Alten said many of the bracelets were produced for a mass market. “We found that we really don’t have very much by known artists in our community,” she said.