carver Rick Beasley releases step-by-step guides to a traditional
new series of books on traditional Tlingit carving offers an innovative
approach to learning the art, by providing a detailed description
of the techniques in printed form.
the cultural knowledge inherent in the creation of the artwork has
been passed down through master-apprentice relationships and workshops,
and the books' introduction makes clear this is still the best way
to learn. But for those without access to a teacher or a class,
and for those who live outside Southeast Alaska, the series offers
a way in.
three books, "How to Carve a Tlingit Tray," "How
to Carve a Tlingit Hat" and "How to Carve a Tlingit Mask,"
are narrated by local carver Richard Beasley. Through a combination
of step-by-step photos and text, Beasley breaks the often quite
technical processes down into small, clear and manageable pieces.
will take a person through from the very beginning to the very end,"
he said. "It's kind of like a road map or a blueprint."
teaching Native carving through a print product is an innovative
approach, the techniques Beasley outlines in the series are very
traditional, drawing on knowledge passed from generation to generation,
extending back thousands of years.
the books) we teach how to paint, how to make the paint with the
minerals and rocks and dog salmon eggs," he said. "We
teach how to inlay abalone and operculum (little white shells shaped
like a lima bean). These are all methods that were used since before
time we can record."
of the three books contains sections on tools, paint, paintbrushes
and inlay techniques, so artists can use one of the three volumes
independently of the others.
documenting Beasley's expertise, the books, produced through Sealaska
Heritage Foundation and made possible through a federal grant from
the Administration for Native Americans, offer more than a "how
to" series for artists. They also provide a visual record of
Tlingit cultural knowledge for current and future generations.
part of an idea that I want to leave my knowledge in print to others
that it will be most beneficial to, mainly tribal members,"
general introduction by SHI President Rosita Worl places Tlingit
carving in its historical context and explains how a tradition that
had existed for millennia was disrupted upon Native contact with
Europeans. The apprenticeship system was weakened, she writes, but
the art was kept alive. Artists such as Beasley play a critical
role in the continued strength and survival of the culture, she
individual project is also introduced with an essay by Kathy Miller,
former SHI ethnologist, who provides an overview of the significance
of the items throughout history.
textual descriptions of how to complete the projects are matched
with photographer Mark Kelley's vibrant color images of the artist
at work. Kelley was an easy choice, Beasley said.
photography is the most important part, and initially that's who
I had in mind from the very beginning," Beasley said. "I
just like the story his photos portray. He doesn't just document
an image, he tells a story through his visual capabilities."
Dye, director of media and publications at SHI, edited and designed
the book. She said the texts are structured so that even beginners
can use them.
of our goals was for someone with no experience to pick up the books
and learn the technique," she said.
sat by Beasley as he worked in the studio taking notes, as Kelley
documented each step with his camera. After the photos were printed,
Dye and Beasley went through them, put them in chronological order
and then worked through the language for the captions to represent
exactly what was happening in the frame.
some cases, the pair worked out additional cues to make the steps
as clear as possible, such as adding letters and arrows to individual
images that indicate specific spots on the wood, or show the direction
of a carving stroke.
embarked on one of the projects herself to be sure the instructions
we had the instructions roughed out, I did go through the tray project
just to make sure I could do it," Dye said. "I figured
if I could do it, anyone could do it."
said she was successful in following the directions, and that her
appreciation for Native art was deepened after watching Beasley
at work, an experience she described as a privilege.
who is a Raven of the Coho clan, is a lifelong carver who apprenticed
under many prominent Native artists. He said that when he was growing
up in Juneau, everybody carved. The art also was integrated into
the school system.
get your wood and everything at school - your designs and your technical
help - you'd carve at school and then take it home and carve at
home," he said. "It's the kind of thing you'd just want
to do. You could stay up until 2 in the morning carving up in your
drive to carve also was fed by the inactivity of the long Juneau
winters, he said.
long time ago in Juneau there wasn't a darn thing to do here,"
he said. "The radios went off at midnight, there would be big
snowbanks all they way up until April. And we'd carve like mad."
may not be as many group settings available to today's young artists,
and the apprenticeship system may be less active than it once was,
but there is no shortage of skill in Southeast, Beasley said.
a lot of talent out there, a lot of talent," he said.
carvers, the tray is the easiest of the three projects to make,
Beasley said, followed by the hat and then the more difficult mask.
The tray involves 69 steps, the hat 107, and the mask 310.
thing the books do not attempt to cover is the issue of design,
something Beasley said would entail a whole separate volume. Instead,
the series focuses on the technical and artistic specifications
and techniques for producing each item, many of which are determined
by the rules set down by tradition.
common mistakes was another reason Beasley was inspired to pursue
the books project.
don't want people having to fight to figure stuff out, or listen
to people's suggestions that may not be right, go down dead alleys
and all that," Beasley said.
example, Beasley said that when he was a student, he was instructed
to carve a 4-inch ladle out of a huge block of wood. Later he learned
that using a big chunk of wood to create a small item is not only
time consuming, he said, but also disregards the nature of the wood
best wood to carve is the outer inch of the wood, that's where it's
the densest, the freshest, the liveliest. So when you use these
big pieces of wood, you end up using the wood that's inside of the
tree that's not the best."
of the best local sources for fresh wood is Basin Road, he said,
adding that local wood is ideal for the projects he describes because
of its tight grain, the result of having growing up slowly in a
said he hopes to continue the "how to" series of art books.
He is currently working on one on beading, and may include one metal
work, the discipline he studied in college. Accomplished in all
the Native arts, Beasley said documenting his knowledge has so far
been very rewarding.
loved it. Just absolutely loved it. Because I kind of think we're
all responsible for passing on our knowledge and not letting it
die with us. We're at that point in life."