November 2011

Photo by user
Submitted By: Rocky Grimes — Juvenile Steller sea lions out for a stroll in SE Alaska

Visitor Submitted Photo of the Month: Did you get some spectacular photos from your trip to Alaska that you would like to share? Submit them on Simply create a My Alaska account and post away. We will be selecting one photo each month to include in our newsletter.


The holiday season is fast approaching, but there's plenty of time to make this the year you wow everyone on your gift list. Skip the gym socks and gift certificates and opt for authentic Alaska Native art. From carved ivory and hand-woven baskets to beadwork and jewelry, Alaska Natives create art that reflects the rich history of their cultures and the state they call home. Read on to learn more about Alaska Native art, view examples of Native craftsmanship and learn how to spot authentic items and where you can purchase high-quality Alaska Native art. Because not all Alaska Native art fits in a holiday box, there is also information on popular Native performances and shows that feature storytelling, dancing and more.


Day 1 Ketchikan
Arrive via air or Alaska Marine Highway. Pick up a walking tour map and explore downtown attractions including historic Creek Street, Tongass Historical Museum and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. See performances of Alaska Native dance and songs at the Saxman Native Village. Learn about the area’s totem poles and the historical techniques used to construct them. Go shopping in the area’s businesses for examples of Native arts and crafts.

Day 2 Wrangell – Petersburg
Take the Alaska Marine Highway to Wrangell and view the prehistoric rock carvings at Petroglyph Beach. Visit the Wrangell Museum to learn about the area’s history and see the exhibit of spruce root and cedar-bark baskets from the late 1800s. Check out Chief Shakes Tribal House and several totem poles on Chief Shakes Island, accessible from downtown Wrangell via a short boardwalk that connects the town with the island. Or stay on the ferry and continue on to the community of Petersburg, known as “Little Norway.” Check out the town’s local shops and look for examples of rosemaling, a distinctive flowery Norwegian style of painting still practiced by locals. Overnight in Wrangell or Petersburg.

Day 3 Juneau
Fly to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Tour the Alaska State Museum, enjoying displays that include a collection of Northwest Coast and Eskimo baskets that is among the most comprehensive in the world. There is an also a collection of Eskimo-carved ivory ranging from prehistoric to modern. The museum also features a collection of work by contemporary Native artists. Overnight in Juneau.

Day 4 Sitka
Board Alaska Airlines for a quick trip to Sitka. The historic seaside capital of Russian America, Sitka was founded in 1804. Spend the day sightseeing and you’ll soon gain an appreciation for the Russian and Tlingit influences that are prevalent throughout the town. Sitka’s Russian heritage sites include St. Michaels Cathedral, a Russian cemetery, blockhouse and Russian Bishop’s house. Visit the Sheldon Jackson Museum and its collection of Eskimo, Aleut and Indian artifacts, including spruce root baskets, engraved silver objects and beadwork. Also worth visiting is the dramatic display of totem poles in the Sitka National Historical Park.

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Alaska Native Culture and Traditional Crafts

Styles and popular items

Traditionally, Alaska Native artists used natural elements and weaving, beading and carving skills to create functional craft objects and works of art; later on, they used materials introduced by Europeans. While some Alaska Native crafts include elements found only in the Arctic, there is a new wave of contemporary artists who utilize modern techniques and mediums.

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Native Arts

Insider tips for buying Native art

Not sure if an item is a genuine piece of Alaska Native art? Learn about the Silver Hand and Made in Alaska programs and pick up other tips to make sure you get the real deal. You can buy with confidence knowing your purchase is authentic and crafted by an Alaskan. One of the best ways purchase real Alaska Native art is to buy directly from the craftsperson. Native gatherings are also a great opportunity to find traditional items, and several Alaska shops are known for their commitment to stocking authentic items from Alaska Native artists.

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Buying Native Crafts

Experience Native culture with traditional performances

Crafts are just one element of Alaska Natives’ artistic traditions – Alaska’s indigenous people also express their culture and history through performances featuring storytelling, dancing and music. Passed from generation to generation, traditional dances connect the distinct cultures across Alaska to their origins. There are several annual statewide gatherings that showcase Alaska Native performances, as well as everyday opportunities to learn more about the state’s original peoples.

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Traditional Dance