Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Hart, James open new art gallery


June 6, 2019

Ted Hart opened a new art gallery this week, featuring Native artwork by himself and his cousin, Zachary James.

Canoe paddles, wooden hats, and masks decorate the gallery on 2nd Avenue next the Magpie. Hanging on walls and displayed in glass cases, the pieces are decorated with black, ochre red, and copper blue shapes called formline designs, indicative of Northwest Coast Native art.

When 33-year-old Hart created his first wooden paddle, he used it to travel from Haines to Juneau by canoe for the Sealaska Heritage Celebration of Tlingit culture. “It’s kind of a rule. You have to carve your own paddle,” said Hart. “I carved it from just, basically a rough-cut yellow cedar board. I hand-carved the shape, keeping in mind that I was going to be using it over many miles. I tried to keep it really light. I tried to keep in mind how it was going to work in the water. Then I painted it,” he said.

With this gallery, Hart and James are not only practicing their Native traditions, they are expressing their individuality. Hart carves traditional paddles, but also longboards, a type of skateboard, and said he would make snowboards on commission. On top of skateboards and snowboards, Hart will paint formline designs of his family crest, raven.

“It’s almost like there’s something bigger that’s guiding you. When you have your family crest there, you know they’re with you.”

One of the most expensive pieces in the gallery, a $2,600 mask created by James, demonstrates his identification with Native art. Striking against traditional Tlingit masks, James’ mask is made of glass. He said he made it at the Dale Chihuly glass studio in Washington. The opaque mask, smooth and symmetrical, resembles a human face. At the same time, it is nothing like a human face, perhaps because James looked at numerous photographs of his ancestors and used their facial proportions to create it.

“I already knew how to carve masks, but I wanted to make it a one-to-one, scale-sized face. The eyes are still very abstract, very formline, but the rest is very naturalistic,” said James. “I just wanted to represent my family. I wanted to look at their faces and use it as a guideline in order to (show) who we are as a people. The pride I feel when I think about where we came from and who we are, that wasn’t something that we could have done two generations ago.”

James said that when he creates art, he always remembers that, “for a while it wasn’t good to be Native, or to do Native art.” He said his grandparents went to school in Haines, where if he spoke Tlingit language, their mouths would be washed out with soap. “Unless you asked them, they wouldn’t talk about any of the things they used to do,” he said. Unlike his grandparents, James feels enormous pride for his Tlingit heritage.

“(The Tlingit) set a standard. They made a wall so high that today we can’t even hope to surpass what they’ve done with what they had,” said James. “We need to make our own wall, our own style, our own traditions. I wanted to try and at least reach and touch the level of quality that they were able to accomplish at that time.”


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