Tlingit artist Lisa Andersson in her store in Hoonah
Photo Credit: Kerry Tasker for Spruce Root Org.

Alaska Native Artist Spotlight: Lisa Andersson (Tlingit)

Alaska Native Artist Spotlight: Lisa Andersson (Tlingit)

Haa Shagóon, a Connecting Force

About the Author: Samantha Phillips is Tlingit - Kaagwaantaan, Eagle/Brown Bear of Klukwan and grew up in Yakutat. As a young woman she learned of her Tlingit grandmother’s suffering of severe discrimination and mistreatment while attending a residential boarding school. Publicly speaking out about what her grandmother endured served as a powerful lesson to Samantha that Indigenous voices need to be heard. By focusing on making a difference, she has passionately poured her storytelling abilities into various writing pursuits. When she is not writing in her current home in Madison, Alabama, Samantha can be found making memories with her life’s work—her six children.

“I guess the call of the wild was too strong for me,” smiles  Lisa Andersson, a twinkle in her eye.

The call of the wild or the call of her ancestors drew her back home to her birthplace of Hoonah, Alaska. Lisa’s Tlingit mother, Pauline Rudolph, and Swedish father, Sven Andersson, met in Juneau after he arrived on a U.S. Marine ship. Eagerly embracing life in Alaska, Sven married Pauline and settled in Juneau. Summers were spent fishing, their five children in tow. Excursions around Icy Strait included venturing to Glacier Bay, Excursion Inlet, Spasski, Point Adolphus, Flynn Cove, and Lisa’s beloved - Hoonah. About thirty miles west of Juneau on Chichagof Island’s north shore, Hoonah is nestled in the majestic Tongass National Forest.

Views of Hoonah, Alaska
Views of Hoonah, Alaska. Photo Credit: Kerry Tasker for Spruce Root Org.

As a child, Lisa fondly remembers her beachcombing adventures on those fishing trips. Collecting sea stars, sea urchins, Chinese hat snails. Discovering the many creatures of the sea - halibut, flounder, crab. Taking in views of vivid green waters swarming with jellyfish, the beach grass lined coves, the salty ocean air in her lungs. All etched in her memory.

Lisa Andersson fishing as a child
Lisa fishing as a child.

The beautiful land was not the only experience that formed Lisa into the artist and traditional remedy maker she is today. The culture, the people, and a Tlingit concept called Haa Shagóon, were all guiding forces for Lisa. She speaks tenderly of elders who selflessly imparted their knowledge of Tlingit traditions.

“When the elders see you are interested in something, they want to download all they know into you,” Lisa explains. 

When asked about her art, her passion for sharing her Tlingit culture, Lisa is quick to deflect. “It’s not about me. It’s about our culture. Haa Shagóon. Everything we do is from our elders. And what we can leave to our children. Culture bearers, everyone is. What we can take from the past and leave for the future. To hand off the knowledge. The elders taught what was coming down the line. It’s just amazing when I think about it.”

It is apparent that Lisa’s respect for the elders who shaped her runs deep.

Lisa Andersson in Hoonah
Lisa Andersson in Hoonah. Photo Credit: Kerry Tasker for Spruce Root Org.

The Tlingit are a matrilineal people. So naturally, Lisa was influenced by her grandmother. As a young girl, she was captivated by her grandmother’s sewing room, filled with sparkling beads. Her grandmother would wake up early to bead and sew baby booties to sell at shows. “One day my mom sat my siblings and I down and showed us how to bead these tiny flowers. She said Grandma needed them for her booties.” At the promise of a few dollars the girls enthusiastically beaded. Over forty years later, Lisa found that those little flower patches were not sold at all, but tucked away safely in a little box.

As important as elders are in Tlingit culture, children are also treasured. Haa Shágoon is a concept of revering ancestors and future generations equally. This was illustrated to Lisa through a gift she made for her grandmother. When Lisa’s mother arranged for her grandmother to have photos taken by a professional photographer, Lisa’s grandmother proudly donned the beaded butterfly necklace she had made for her across her forehead like a headband. “It was clearly made by a child,” Lisa laughs.

Portrait of Lisa Andersson's grandmother
Lisa’s Grandmother proudly wearing Lisa’s butterfly necklace as a headband.

As grounded as they were in their rich Tlingit culture in Southeast Alaska, Lisa’s family transplanted to her father’s homeland of Sweden when she was nine years old. Lisa says her mom had compassion for her father’s mother, not wanting her to be without her son. So the second half of Lisa’s childhood was immersed in her Swedish roots. She did not do so willingly at first.

“I remember telling my siblings I was not going to learn the Swedish language!” she asserts.

While in Sweden, her father encouraged her to start painting. Since both parents were artists and musicians, they had a habit of thrusting their children into performing or making things. 

“We were like the Von Trapp family!” she recalls. 

Lisa’s mom, an avid gardener, took well to Sweden. Concocting tinctures from wild plants intrigued Lisa. That, along with witnessing her mother make her own regalia in Alaska, both served as inspiration for Lisa’s future endeavors.

At the age of 20, when Lisa returned to Hoonah, the familiar smell of the ocean welcomed her. She took on jobs fishing commercially and as a journeyman painter. She traveled back and forth from Sweden, spending her summers in Hoonah and eventually settled down to stay in 1995. The only one of her siblings to return to Hoonah, Lisa takes time to travel back to her family in Sweden twice a year.

Views of Hoonah, Alaska
Views of Hoonah. Photo Credit: Kerry Tasker for Spruce Root Org.

“I love the Swedish culture. Standing in two worlds is not an easy task, although it is definitely enriching,” she says.

“I am home. I am Tlingit/Swedish, I come from two cultures. I live in Alaska because it is who I am, it was who my ancestors were, and it is who my descendants are going to be. Of Alaska.”

Being home for Lisa is a reminder of Haa Shágoon all over again.

Haa Shagóon is a sense of existence, a unity of the past, present, and future. A continuum of past, present, and future circumstances and how we exist in all three simultaneously. How we are today is defined by our past - what we do today - defines our future. It is like being all three at once, our ancestors, ourselves, and our future. A strong sense of being.”         

- Lisa Andersson

Lisa’s work embodies Haa Shagóon. She shares wisdom passed on to her through traditional art and offers traditional healing remedies through her line of Tlingit Botanicals. She welcomes visitors to connect with her rich Tlingit culture by visiting her shop Dei L’e.ann in Hoonah. Visitors can arrive by cruise ship or seaplane, with flights offered by Alaska Seaplanes.

Lisa Andersson in her shop, Tlingit Botanicals
Lisa in her shop Dei L’e.ann. Photo Credit: Kerry Tasker for Spruce Root Org.

Dei L’e.ann is located at Icy Strait Point, a privately owned cruise port that once served as Hoonah’s fishing cannery. Alongside a museum and other retail shops, Dei L’e.ann showcases Lisa’s art, carefully designed with Tlingit formline and her local salves and beauty treatments. Collections of authentic Indigenous art from Hoonah artisans are also on display. Prints, painted drums, jewelry, accessories and treasures all await the visitor to discover.

Not able to swing into Dei L’e.ann? You can still take home some of Lisa’s art by visiting her online store and her Tlingit Botanicals website.

Snowy mountain peaks in Alaska

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