Insider tips for buying Native art
The Silver Hand program identifies and promotes authentic Alaska Native art and crafts produced in Alaska by Alaska Natives. Silver Hand-certified artists are full-time Alaska residents who have verified Alaska Native tribal enrollment. The Silver Hand seal is reserved exclusively for original works, not reproductions. Find out more about the Silver Hand program here.
In addition to buying from the craftsperson, another way to make sure you‘re purchasing authentic Alaska Native art is by visiting established dealers and attending special events.
Founded in 2002, the Alaska Native Arts Foundation is a nonprofit organization with goals to increase awareness of Alaska Native cultures and their diverse cultural expressions, stimulate demand for Alaska Native art and establish fair market pricing. The foundation’s downtown Anchorage store sells items labeled according to the culture and region that produced them. Not just a storefront though, skilled artists teach classes and workshops, and the foundation maintains a website to sell items outside Alaska – perfect for the holiday season. One of the state’s most established shops is located inside a most unusual location – a hospital. The Alaska Native Medical Center Auxiliary Gift Shop started in 1975 as a table in the Alaska Native Medical Center’s lobby. When a new center opened in 1997, it included a small craft shop named Tausigniaviat, "the people's shopping place." Profits from the shop fund hospital items and a college scholarship fund for Alaska Native students. So far the fund has supplied around $1 million to help Native students with their studies.
Anchorage’s Alaska Native Heritage Center is a cultural center that prides itself on sharing the rich heritage of Alaska's 11 major Alaska Native cultural groups. The center is located on 26 wooded acres and features a lake and six authentic, life-sized Alaska Native dwellings. The center also sells authentic Alaska Native arts and crafts in its gift shop.
The shop features Tlingit serigraphics, Haida bracelets, Aleut baskets, Haida masks, Yup'ik masks, Athabascan beading, Inupiaq ivory carvings and more. The shop is only open on Saturdays, but the center also has an online store.
An annual event that draws indigenous people from around the state is the Alaska Federation of Natives’ conference. The organization’s mission is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community.
The AFN conference gives artists from around the state, as well as American Indians from the Lower 48, a chance to feature their goods at the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts Fair, which hosted more than 170 artists and craftsman this year. The fair runs all three days of the conference and is a rare opportunity to speak directly to skilled artists who create their work with a sense of history and tradition or adapt it to a more modern expression.
Another opportunity to meet artists from around Alaska is the annual World Eskimo Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Just after Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, WEIO was part of the emerging Golden Days Celebration in Fairbanks. As Western culture became more prevalent in this rapidly developing state, the event was a way to preserve traditional games and skills and a great opportunity for Alaska’s Native crafters to show off their work. Today, the Arts and Crafts Fair is a recognized, highly organized component of WEIO. Some participants can brag that they’ve been selling crafts at the event for 50 years.
Alaska shops also feature products that have the distinction of being crafted in Alaska, but not necessarily by Alaska Natives. These items feature the "Made in Alaska" symbol. The emblem features two polar bears and indicates that a resident artist, craftsperson or manufacturer made the item in Alaska and with Alaska materials (if available in Alaska). More information on this program, including a product listing, is available online.