Helm Johnson at work
Helm first learned to weld at age 6, and was later encouraged to work in the family construction business from age 12. His metal working skills grew over the years as he studied auto body refinishing and worked as a welder and metal fabricator. Through his mother’s work at Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum gift shop, in its early days, he was exposed to many artists. He took his first jewelry class in Hopi silver overlay jewelry through the museum. This led him to use his skills for art. As his attention to his craft grew he began to take additional metalsmith and lapidary classes. He is now a lifelong student of metalcrafting. Helm feels that one of the best parts of creating art with metal is how it challenges his abilities. Metalsmithing is a complex process to turn something rough into something beautiful. He finds it energizing to transform an image into a solid form.
Alisha (Englartaq) is both an artist and a writer. As generations of women in her Afognak Alutiiq family before her, she is a beader, seamstress and needle-worker. She has studied art from primary school through college, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing. In addition to her writing, she also enjoys carving, sculpting, calligraphy, drawing and painting. She contributes to the family’s artwork and jewelry creations by providing original designs—many rooted in her Alutiiq culture. She prepares the family’s designs for creation by transferring hand-drawn sketches or photos, using graphic design software, Adobe Illustrator. Her drawings serve as templates to support Helm’s metal crafting. Alisha also applies her beading, carved wood and bone objects to some mixed-media pieces, and writes story cards that accompany each piece. Her favorite part of collaborating with Helm is watching her designs become finished silverwork.
Each piece of their art originates from an image. They are often inspired by traditional Alaska Native imagery or artifacts. The ingenuity of the Alutiiq people, until recently, is something that hasn’t been given proper honor. Many of their pieces are replicas in silver of these traditional objects, originally created in bone and wood, as they try to capture the essence of their unique design. Now, they are stretching beyond these traditional images into original or collaborative designs developed together or with their clients. Together, Helm and Alisha blend their skills in a marriage of imagery and materials.
They work in their Kodiak studio in the summers, allowing them to gather natural materials from Alaska , enjoy the ocean, family and being at home on the island. And they work in their winter studio in Las Cruces, New Mexico , allowing for opportunities to enhance skills at the University of New Mexico and from studying with other independent artists in the Southwest. Through their travels with their sons they gather new ideas for artwork from the lands and cultures they experience, offering an endless potential for new series of collaborative projects. They are thankful for the knowledge others have shared to help grow their crafts, and so seek to share what they have learned with youth and other artists.