ALUTIIQ MUSEUM  215 Mission Road, Kodiak, Alaska 99615   |  844-425-8844  |  view calendar > | search >

Making Faces

The Pinart Collection and Alutiiq Artists

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A Collection From the Past

In the winter of 1872, a young French anthropologist named Alphonse Pinart explored the coast of Kodiak by kayak.  During his travels, Pinart recorded Alutiiq stories and songs, and collected many objects.  He was especially interested in Alutiiq spirituality and acquired 80 ceremonial masks.  On returning to France, Pinart gave his collections to the Château Musée, a small regional museum.

 

A Collection For Future

In 2006, a grant to the Alutiiq Museum allowed 10 artists to travel to the Château Musée to see the collections.  The artists studied the objects, then returned to Kodiak to teach carving and create pieces for the Alutiiq Museum.  These types of activities are helping Alutiiqs experience their rich culture and awaken artistic techniques preserved in ancestral works.  In February, an exhibition of masks inspired by this trip to view the Pinart collection, Making Faces - opened in Kodiak.  The exhibit also includes photographs taken during the trip to France.

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Alutiiq Artists in France (from left):

Sven Haakanson, Jr., Lena Amason, Helen Simeonoff, Coral Chernoff, Doug Inga, Gary Knagin, Sarah Delaporte (consultant), Perry Eaton, Alfred Naumoff, Speridon Simeonoff, and Will Anderson.


Alphonse Pinart

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A Young Linguist

Born in northern France in 1852 Louis Alphonse Pinart was the son of a wealthy iron merchant.  Pinart had a gift for linguistics.  As a young man he studied Asian languages and anthropology and developed an interest in the ancestral relationships between Native American and Asian peoples.

 

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Pinart was just 19 years old when he left the comforts of his academic life in France to journey to Alaska to study Native languages.  During his thirteen month journey, he visited the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and the coast of the Bering Sea traveling as far north as Nunivak Island.  In the fall of 1871, he decided to visit Kodiak and paddled for two months reaching the archipelago by kayak in November.

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The Châteu Musée

Pinart's visit to the Kodiak region last six months.  During his travels he stopped at communities through out the region and collected a wide variety of Alutiiq objects.  Boat models, paddles, bows, arrows, headdresses, bowls, spoons, and masks are among the traditional items that Pinart obtained.  He also recorded Alutiiq stories and songs. 

In 1875, Pinart gave his Alaskan collections to the Châteu Musée, a regional museum in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, a coastal fishing community near his home.  The collection, which includes about 300 objects, has remained in the museum's expert care since, miraculously surviving the destruction of two world wars.  Today this collection documents important features of both French and Alutiiq history.


 

 

Studying the Collection

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Sven Haakanson

“I feel honored to have had the ability to work with the masks and every time I work with them I learn something new from our ancestors techniques. It was a joy to bring the artists to France to see the masks for the first time and participate in their excitement. Experiencing how much the artists learned from just three days of working with the original masks is inspiring.”

In the 1990s the Alutiiq community began to learn about the Pinart Collection, particularly its remarkable collection of Alutiiq masks.  Pinart's interest in spiritual culture led him to collect ceremonical gear, including over 80 wooden masks.  Moreover, he recorded the Alutiiq names and songs associated with many of these pieces.  Together the masks and the linguistic data are one of the richest archives of Alutiiq ceremonial culture in the world.

Pinart's collections are also a trove of artistic information.  Pinart visited Kodiak when people were still manufacturing goods in traditional ways, and learning the arts by apprenticing to masters.  As such, the items he obtained contain details about the use of tools and raw materials, color choices, proportions, and design that have been lost to living memory.  Modern artists can study the collections to learn how their ancestors crafted items, and with such a large collection, manufacturing processes become clearer.

In 2006, ten Alutiiq artists spent 3 days studying the collections in Boulogne-sur-Mer with a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.  Despite an 8,000 journey, many felt very close to home.

 

 

 

 
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Alfred Naumoff sketching

Alfred Naumoff

"The design of all the masks was quite different. Distinct shapes. I did notice some  similarities with Yupik and Chugach masks."

 
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Coral Chernoff taking notes.

Coral Chernoff

"What struck me most was the mastery of the art, the carvings themselves, knowing they had primitive tools and they still made these beautiful masks. The other was the sheer size of the masks- they were much larger than I realized. The size was amazing and then when you got close to them the mastery in the carvings, the details and workmanship put into each mask. They were so absolutely beautiful. At the end of the day the Alutiiq pieces I had seen until then never showed the high level of artistry until that day. It still leaves me speechless."

 
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Doug Inga photographs an anyaq model.

Doug Inga

"What struck me was how did they do it. What tools did they use. They had such a nice finish to them. I don’t understand how they did it, because the finish is so nice. Some masks I saw they used stone."

 
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Gary Knagin examines a mask.

Gary Knagin

"Looking at the pieces, the pictures just don’t do them justice. There’s definitely more detail, more thought that goes into them. Like wrapping the hoops with leather, different details that you can’t see in photos. I wasn’t expecting them to be that advanced."

 
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Helen Simeonoff studies painted designs.

Helen Simeonoff

"I was hungry to feel reconnected with my 'vanished' culture.  It was an overwhelming feeling to see my whole Sugpiaq culture unfold before my eyes, especially when many of the items came out of my mother's village of old Afognak."

 
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Lena Amason holds a mask to natural light.

Lena Amason

"Seeing them in person, you could tell by the colors and carving style that some masks were made by the same carver.  You could tell that certain masks were 'related' to each other."

 
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Perry Eaton investigates the inside of a mask.

Perry Eaton

"The masks have a life unto themselves. When you are in their presence you are linked to the Islands’ People in ways that can’t be explained in words. The most valuable thing about this collection, to me is that it shows us the shape and form – the attributes that define a Sugpiaq mask. No other single collection has this kind of substance."

 
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Speridon Simonoff with a goat horn spoon.

Speridon Simeonoff

"A few of us did cry when we saw them. I had never felt that before – they were the first masks I had seen that were old . . .  It’s a piece of our history, a connection to our past."

 
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Will Anderson photographs a feast bowl.

Will Anderson

"I went on the trip to France with a very analytical mindset, with a focus on studying the mask’s design, proportions, and color schemes.  I expected to feel a sense of familiarity when I finally had the opportunity to work with the masks first hand.  I was surprised to find that when it came time to see the masks . . . for the first time that I was literally overcome with emotion."
 

 

Sharing Knowledge

 

One goal of taking Alutiiq artists to France was to advance their knoweldge, so they could bring details of the Pinart collection home to share with others.  To participate in the trip, each artists had to agree to become a teacher.  After the trip, the artists worked with students in Kodiak's rural communities, sharing the information and inspiration they gained in France.  They attended Alutiiq Week celebrations - leading 5 day carving workshops to help youth learn more about both Alutiiq heritage and woodworking.  Community members were invited to participate too.  This way, many more people benefited from the artits' experiences. 
 

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Will Anderson teaching in Ouzinkie
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Doug Inga works with a Larsen Bay student

Inspiration

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Another requirement for trip participants was to create an original work of art for the Alutiiq Museum's collection. 

Carvers were asked to make a full-sized mask that embodied the experience.  Watercolor artist Helen Simeonoff created an original painting.

 

Spirit Bearer by Sven Haakanson, Jr.

 

 

 

 

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Puquuq

Puquuq
by Doug Inga
Wood Carving - Alder, acrylic paint, synthetic sinew
2008

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Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget
by Sven Haakanson, Jr.
Wood Carving – cedar, copper pipe,
300 wmm brass shell casings,
silver wire, ochre, oil paint, sinew, wax
2006

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Untitled
by Speridon Simeonoff
Wood Carving - Red cedar, acrylic paint, baleen, synthetic sinew
2007

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Elder Brother
Elder Brother
by Perry Eaton
Wood Carving – myrtle wood, oil paint,
carbon fiber, and cotton string
2007
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Untitled
by Gary Knagin
Wood Carving - Spruce, willow, leather, acrylic paint, glass beads, walrus ivory, musk ox fur, baleen, synthetic sinew, and feathers
2008
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Sugpiaq Culture

Sugpiaq Culture
by Helen Simeonoff
Water Color Painting
2006

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Untitled
by Coral Chernof
Wood Carving - Spruce, alder, baleen, ivory, moose sinew, white glass beads, earth
2008
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Untitled
by Will Anderson
Wood Carving - spruce, acrylic paint, pigeon feathers, goose feather
2008

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Golden Crowned Sparrow

Golden Crowned Sparrow
by Lena Amason
Wood Carving - red cedar, sinew, glitter, acrylic and oil paints
2007

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Ashik
Ashik
by Alfred Naumoff
Wood Carving - Red cedar mask, spruce hoop acrylic paint, rabbit fur, synthetic sinew, and feathers
2008