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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 25, 2003 - Issue 79


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Artist-John Hoover

credits: John Hoover (Aleut) b. 1919
"Sea Weed People," c. 1994 on display at the White House

John Hoover was born in Cordova, Alaska although he now resides in Washington State. Born to an Aleut mother, who was raised by Russian priests and a German father, John spent his youth, involved in a combination of fishing and art making. His participation in boat building inspired his interest in sculpture. Inspiration for his personal artistic vision began with traditional Northwest Coast Indian carvings. John was drawn to their colors and to the legends that they illustrated. His work has continued to develop and move into the more surreal as a result of travels to Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines where he learned the woodworking techniques of those indigenous cultures.

Now the best of his work is soon to be on display in the Heard Museum.

Once you've seen one of Hoover's art pieces, you'll recognize his work the next time you see it. That's because his inspiration has been the same ever since he began painting and carving wood 50 years ago.

"He's inspired by ancient myths and cultures. and all cultures, not just his own. his mother was Aleut, but he's inspired by many Native cultures," said Julie Decker, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art exhibit curator, which recently exhibited Hoover's work

"They start from the beginning of his career as a painter, which is in the 1950s and go all the way to the present. He's still a working carver even though turned 83 years old in October," Decker said.

Hoover's art consists mainly of carvings on red cedar, also known as the tree of life, and it carries one major theme.

"The transformation of animals to humans and humans to animals," Decker said. "And it's about shamanism.

John Hoover reveres the role of shaman in Native communities…He's also known for his triptychs, which fold in and out and transform from two birds into four, for instance."

John has had a distinguished career, marked by recognition from the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Philbrook Art Center. Hoover's most recent commissions include an installation at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, consisting of thirty-four carved Snow Geese circling the rotunda, and a bronze sculpture titled, "Seaweed People" which was installed in "The First Lady's Sculpture Garden" at the White House

Seaweed People is the first piece Hoover had cast in bronze.

"Sea Weed People," c. 1994 on display at the White House"And while most of his pieces are based on actual myths or legends that he read in books, this one he made up. He saw kelp floating in the water and thought it had some real human-like qualities, so he invented Seaweed People and created this piece based on his own legend."

Hoover's legends are world renowned. The pieces you'll find in this exhibit have been borrowed from museums around the world. It's an exhibit all Alaskans can be proud of as it honors one of our own for a lifetime of success as an artist.

I think he's important because he's an Alaskan and rarely do we get to celebrate the artists that were born and raised here."

"The exhibit is meant to celebrate, not just his art work, but his life. It's a retrospective look at what he did as an artist and what he did as a human being, and both are tremendous stories."

The exhibit is a traveling exhibition organized by the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. The exhibit opens Feb. 15 and will remain on display through June 15. For more information call (602) 252-8848 or log on to

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