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12″ x 12″ x 0.7″ Multiglazed tile, Cook Inlet glacier clay, cone 6 oxidation
The fish in the center are dolly varden, arctic char, and pike. This tile was the last one of thirteen that I made for NANA Development Corp. and it is outside the elevators on the basement floor. I got a ton of compliments from people that have walked through the building just to look at the art tiles. Had some interesting comments the last time I posted the cut-out that went into making the plate that is impressed into the clay slab, so I decided to add another post but along side the tile that it made. I usually sell my art tiles during the summer, but the winter commissions have been picking up, so I don’t starve during the winters anymore.
A lot of the old art work along the west and north coasts of Alaska had a sort of circular aspect to it because it would fit onto a drum skin or inside a wood food bowl. I used the circular motif on several of the tiles for NANA and on the tile above. The x-ray view of the caribou and the seal is also a style common in the area.
This isn’t tile related but I feel like writing something about native Alaskans. During the superbowl, a local commercial came on saying how over a thousand students have benefitted from the ANSEP (Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program), a part of the University of Alaska system. It made me feel good. I was just the third native Alaskan to graduate from the Anchorage civil engineering program way back in the day, and now it is more common.
The tile clay body that I developed from the mudflats glacial clay works well for large size tiles. This tile design is one of fourteen that the NANA native corporation commissioned for the elevator lobbies of their new six-story digs in downtown Anchorage. They want original designs and they don’t mind that I will make more tiles later of the designs made for them. After all, I am a printmaker, and we do make multiples. They don’t have to worry about seeing the designs too often because I don’t sell too many of the larger sizes. They cost a lot. A twelve-inch multiglazed tile costs $350. Of course, they paid a bit more since it is a custom order.
I used a circular pattern of caribou around a few figures in the center. Imagery from Western Alaskan coastal areas often use a circular design since they are drawn usually on a skin drum or in a oval type wood food serving container. One old artist says that for larger figures, an x-ray style of depicting the insides of the animals helps add interest to the drawings.
Plate used to print wolves tile constructed of matte board and 140 lb. cotton rag etching paper. Glued together with gesso and coated with acrylic medium. The plate is good for 100 or so printings. The tiles I print with the plate are therefore a limited edition, handpulled print, but without numbering, and of course on clay instead of paper. They are more valuable than any machine made, mass produced pseudo art tile. The etching paper is the negative space on the plate and the recessed line on the plate creates a raised, printed black line on the clay. I wax the black line and that keeps the different glazes separate in the final firing. The constant wiping with the tarleton cloth slowly wears away the acrylic medium and eventually the gesso. You can see the greying of the edges and smaller areas where the ink is starting to stain the underlying paper. This six-inch design has more color glazes than other designs, it can have ten or more glazes.
Three Hares, six-inch, $75
Cook Inlet glacial clay art tile with collagraph printed hares in x-ray style of coastal Inuqiaq. Three hares, three ears, yet each hare has two ears! A while back I made a large woodcut (about 3-1/2′ x 5′ – playing card aspect) using a sheet of plywood that required a steamroller to print an image of three hares similar to this tile, and titled the Three of Hares. It was the third steamroller print event put on in Anchorage. The idea for the three hares came about as a piece in a local group show with a theme about St. Francis and a hare that leads other animals to their respective heavens (put together by James Riordan, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage). The image of three hares was in some medieval monastaries and represented the trinity, but of course, the original design is much older, Etruscan, and historians don’t know what significance it had. Someone referred to the tile as the three rabbi’s.
Six-Inch Caribou, $75
Collagraph print on clay tile body made from local glacial mud flats. The x-ray style, the depiction of the insides such as the ribs and stomach, is common to the coastal native Alaskans such as the Yupiq and Inupiaq (Eskimos). The big dipper to the polar Inupiaq represents a herd of caribou. The polar star that people in lower latitudes refer to as the north star is not used for directions in the arctic because it is over head and unmoving and doesn’t help in determining directions. I’ve seen caribou carcasses in yards in Point Hope, my mother’s village. They were frozen and being eaten by dogs – a kind of old school dog food.
The two newer glaze colors used on this tile are nutmeg for the background and tenmoko gold used for the body. I mix my own glazes and these two were made at the same time, and each glaze, when wet looks like the other glaze’s fired color. It was confusing. This one potter at a craft show asked if I was a “purist” when I told him about making my own clay and mixing my own glazes. I do it because people like that the materials are local and the imagery is a contemporary take on traditional designs. Also, now that I know that hand built, pit fired ceramics were made in my ancestral area of Northwest Alaska for thousands of years, I will someday, test some of that areas clay for use in my tile work.
Fox & Hare, 6″ x 6″ x 3/8″, $75
One villages tale of why night follows day. The fox is the moon and the hare is the sun and they are in this continuous chase through the sky, and that is why night follows day. This is a revision of an earlier design which had the hare sort of upside down. The collagraph plate was about seven years old and wearing out, so it was a good time to make a new printing plate with a slightly different layout. The xray style is indiginous to the coastal areas of Alaska.
The red is new, it is a majolica base with red stain and without the opacifier. Also new is the temuko gold for the background. The clay is from the mudflats next to Anchorage, Alaska.
(Photo by Mike Conte) Here’s the back of the paper coat. The seals on the upper back are cut outs that are gesso-ed on to the etching paper. The x-ray style of showing parts of the inside like the ribs and stomach is common in Alaska coastal areas where wood food bowls and drum skins were decorated with these types of images. Most of my time is taken up making art tiles with the local clay from the glacial mudflats and it was fun to make something different.
A model wearing the coat was posted a couple of weeks ago. She did a fantastic job of selling it to the audience.
6″ x 6″ x 3/8″ Halibut Man, $75
X-ray style shaman in his animal spirit form, the halibut.
Collagraph print onto Cook Inlet glacial clay and oxidation fired to cone 6. I use mat boards with cut out designs to impress images into clay, a raised inked line is waxed and acts as a separator to the different glazes.
4″ x 4″ x 3/8″ Caribou, multiglaze, cone 6 oxidation, Cook Inlet glacier clay. Hand printed from a collagraph plate. Done in the x-ray style common to the coastal peoples of Alaska.
Sea mammals were the main food staple of my mother’s village of Point Hope, but caribou were important too. I like the old style parka were the caribou skin is worn so the fur is on the inside and the hide on the outside.
Ceramic shards have been escavated from Point Hope that show a ceramics tradition dating back about 5,000 years. The last Inupiaq to build ceramic pit fired pots died in the 1880’s and the tradition was lost. I couldn’t get into a native Alaskan arts sales event because the jurors told me my art wasn’t original to Alaska. The native heritage center had a talk with the jurors and after missing out for two years, they let me in. Crazy, I’m registered with the state as an Alaskan native artist, dig up and process my own local clay, and still run into people who say my art isn’t authentic. Oh well.