By Lyndsey Brollini
The smell of cedar and the pounding of adzes hitting wood filled the air at Gajaa Hít on a recent Saturday during what has become a regular gathering for a small group of Juneau carvers.
The Haa Latseen Community Project carving sessions, a Sealaska Heritage program, at Gajaa Hít began December 15, 2018, and have occurred most Saturdays since then.
Among the regulars at the Saturday carving sessions is well-known Northwest Coast artist Steve Brown. Brown is carving two house posts which will accompany a screen carved and painted by Tlingit master artist Nathan Jackson.
The posts and screen were commissioned by a Tlingit advisory group to recognize the Aak’w Ḵwáan of Juneau.
The carving sessions provide space for carvers in Juneau to work on projects, exchange knowledge, and learn from other carvers. For large projects like Brown’s, the space to carve is necessary, and for less experienced carvers, the wealth of knowledge from carvers like Brown is a great resource.
Tlingit artist Donald Héendei Gregory runs the carving practices at Gajaa Hít. Often he will cook a lunch for the carvers and work on his own projects.
Right now he is working on a replica of a sea urchin hat in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian that is from his own clan, Deisheetaan of Angoon. The hat will be painted black with real and imitation bear teeth along the outside of the hat, resembling a sea urchin.
A variety of other projects are in progress at Gajaa Hít. Carvers Walter Cameron (left) and Jake Hohenthner (right) are making food bowls. Cameron uses tools that he made in Wayne Price’s toolmaking class at the University of Alaska Southeast in partnership with Sealaska Heritage to carve his food bowl.
Henry Hopkins, an adopted member of the Shangukeidí clan, is working on a small wooden canoe. The miniature canoe was carved and steamed in the traditional Tlingit way with guidance from Brown. Hopkins, a teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School, is incorporating traditional art practices such as dugout canoe-making into his science classes.
Carver Ray Watkins, an adopted member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan, is working on a headdress frontlet.
Tooḵ Gregory (left), Donald Gregory’s nephew, watched as Watkins (right) carved, asking questions and learning from what Watkins was doing.
All the woodchips on the floor showed the progress the carvers made that day.
“The beginning of a project always makes the most chips,” Cameron commented as he cleaned up the wood chips he made working on his food bowl.
The Haa Latseen Community Project is a Sealaska Heritage Institute program, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, in partnership with Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority and Lemon Creek Correctional Center, with additional support from the Sealaska Carving Program, the Juneau Re-entry Coalition, and the City and Borough of Juneau.
Photos by Lyndsey Brollini.