Grantee: Earl Atchak
Native Citizenship: Cup’ik Eskimo
Location: Chevak, AK
Award: 2020 Mentor Artist Fellowship
Discipline: Traditional Arts
Beginning at the age of fifteen, Earl Atchak was taught traditional carving practices one-on-one by community elders using natural materials and ancient tools. When those elders passed, he furthered his early traditional learnings by continuing, as best as he could, to study time-honored, old lifeways from those who were alive and still making traditional carvings with ancient tools. Through the teachings of these elders, Atchak amassed extensive firsthand knowledge of ancient carving methods and cultural practices, and has become a respected culture bearer within his community.
Keeping true to ancestral lifeways, Atchak hunts, fishes and lives as traditionally as he can. He creates magnificently carved masks reflective of traditional Alaska Native life using materials harvested from animals in his area, such as seals, whales, birds and moose. Atchak carved his first mask in 1985 and has since created hundreds of carvings with materials such as driftwood, ivory, baleen, bone, furs and skins. Atchak’s essence of both life and his artwork is to remember, understand, and internalize the teachings of his ancestors. He deeply appreciates the spiritual meaning of traditional mask-making and is committed to giving back to the community through sharing and teaching his knowledge and wisdom. His carvings honor his teachers and the cultural ways of Native Alaskan life from generations bygone. Atchak’s work is in collections at the Autry Museum of the American West, the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Anchorage Museum, and many private collections.
During the 2020 Mentor Artist Fellowship, Atchak and his apprentice, Leo Unin Jr. (Yup’ik), will conduct hunting and gathering trips on the tundra to gather materials which they will harvest, prepare, and carve to complete a joint art project. He wants to teach Unin the spiritual connection between carving and the natural world, as well as the cultural and historical aspects of traditional mask-making.
To accomplish the collection of this traditional knowledge [in] this day is near impossible with all of the elders no longer with us . . . in my village, I am the only one.
– Earl Atchak