Kathleen Carlo Kendall (Koyukon Athabascan) is a 2018 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) Mentor Artist Fellow for Contemporary Visual Arts. In the late 1970s, Kathleen emerged as one of the first Alaska Native women artists who carve wood – traditionally considered a men’s practice. While mask carving is not one of her culture’s traditional art forms, her work is rooted in ancestral knowledge and reflects traditional elements of design. She currently uses Basswood, a soft wood, while her earlier works include exquisitely carved masks from Black Walnut hardwood. Influenced by her international traveling, Kathleen says Pablo Picasso’s cubism significantly inspired her creativity over the years. She is also drawn to the colors of Brazil and Latin America. Her recent carvings often juxtapose happy and sad faces, reminiscent of Greek comedy/tragedy theater masks or Native trickster characters who are both jovial and mischievous.
During a recent visit to Alaska, Francene Blythe, Director of Programs for NACF, was graciously hosted by Kathleen in Fairbanks. They toured Athabascan art collections including a display of Kathleen’s mother’s work at the Fairbanks Native Association in the Poldine Carlo building – named for her mother in recognition of her legacy in the arts, community health, and well-being. Francene also had the opportunity to visit an exhibition at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks where Kathleen’s work stood alongside that of her apprentice Chris Ehlers (Diné). Chris has been apprenticing with Kathleen as part of the Mentor Artist Fellowship’s year-long program, which for this mentor-apprentice team included carving instruction, exhibition preparation, curation, and documentation. Chris’s carvings are wonderfully unique portrayals of southwestern culture, reflecting his Navajo heritage. One of his wall carvings, currently on exhibit at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, is a well-balanced representation of Anasazi ruins and a symbol of a southwestern deity.
During their mentor fellowship year, Kathleen and her apprentice participated in an artist-in-residency program at Denali National Park, where Chris made his first artwork sale. Kathleen shared how proud and impressed she is with Chris’s progress in developing his creative vision and strengthening his artistic skills. He has far exceeded her expectations. Together, they presented their work to a carving class at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. For the remainder of their mentor fellowship year, both artists will carve two to four pieces each for a joint art exhibition, which opens in the Winter of 2019 also at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks.