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Southeast Alaska Native Art Heritage Celebrated Statewide

Published On: Jan 06 2014 01:57:05 PM AKST   Updated On: Jan 06 2014 02:02:42 PM AKST

Sealaska shareholders learn the cultural art of formline design.

Last weekend, the Sealaska Heritage Institute offered a chance to pass down a tradition from generation to generation, in a formline design workshop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

Formline is a term that describes the complex designs that make up the distinctive Northwest Coast art practiced by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian clans. Formline design expert Steve Brown says this cultural art is important to the heritage of many Alaska Natives.

"In trying to learn this historical background and the established tradition of this art form, it means they can carry it on from one generation to another -- the same way it came down over the last thousand or two years," Brown said.

Sealaska shareholder Sandy Demmert is earning a bachelor's degree in art at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She says her grandfather is a renowned formline artist -- and that his passion lives through her today.

"I want to learn so I can pass it on," Demmert said. "When I go back home, some kid might want to learn the art form and I'll be able to teach them."

In these changing times, Demmert thinks the formline design is getting away from its roots.

"Don't follow the commercial; you have to be traditional," Demmert said. "Before you do the digital art forms, you have to learn the basics."

The Sealaska Heritage Institute is holding a series of formline design workshops across the state. The next one, taught by Lance Twitchell, will be in Juneau on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13; the program will run through May in a total of 10 communities.

Registration and detailed times for the workshops are available on SHI's website.