Alaskan Art History Project

—This is a draft—
Audience: Alaska region school students
Grade: High school
Course: Art, Art history, Alaska history

Class time: one week

Essential question: What influences are there in the Native artwork of an Alaskan region and where did it come from? What are some of the restraints that each region had with the type of art that could be produced?

Source material (some):

  • Alaska Digital Archives:
  • Anchorage Museum:
  • Alaska Native Knowledge Network:

Explanation (brief) of “what the kids will be doing”:
During this lesson, students will explore some of the Native Alaskan Native art and what influences there are to and from neighboring regions or contact from other areas. Students in groups of three will also create an Alaskan influenced 3-D art project. This art project could focus on art and clothing or ceremonial or tools or some other expression of art.

Each group will start with a limited amount of materials and supplies that are different from other groups. Depending on the focus of the art, supplies could be beads, shells, fur, different types of leather, fabric, buttons, metal pieces, bones, antlers, hooves, feathers, paint, wood, rope, etc. Each group may need to trade supplies and ideas with neighboring groups or “regions” of the classroom. The resulting art project will show the effects of trade and influences that may have occurred with the Native Alaskan artwork of a region.

—This is a draft—

Core Values in Traditional Alaska Native Storytelling (Lesson)

(I’m kind of ripping off LB’s format here because it was so good. Thanks LB!)

Region: Interior (it can work with any)     Class time: 2-3 full class periods

Description: From my experience, stories in Alaska Native culture can be a great way for elders or storytellers to pass down core values or life lessons to the next generation. These values that show up in stories aren’t apparent, but they also aren’t inconspicuous enough to not be understood. These stories would be great for a high school class to listen to and analyze. The great thing about this lesson is that it can be tweaked to fit into just about any grade level.

Class Session 1: Invite local elder or storyteller into the classroom to tell two or three stories to tell to the class (this is to give the class a variety of lessons/values to think about). The stories would be picked by the storyteller ahead of time, but approved by the teacher (preferably the stories would be ones that can also be found in print to be given to the students). The storytelling should last an entire 45 minute session. But if there is time left, or if the class period is longer that that time, there will be time to debrief about the stories.

Questions for Class 1:

  • What did you like about each story?
  • Did you find any similarities between the stories?
  • What values do you think the creator of the story was trying to convey? (Stress to students that there aren’t any direct wrong answers. Metaphors can be open ended).
  • What kinds of things to you value? (Maybe chart answers on the board?)
    • This question will be one to leave the students on, so that they have some time to really think about it.

Class Session 2: Today’s class period will be focused on writing a story. (I’m kind of debating in my mind whether or not I should keep the student’s stories traditionally themed, or if I could let them spread out. Pete posed a perfectly legitimate thought about whether or not it could be science fiction or Star Wars-esque. Thoughts on this would be appreciated). The teacher would have left them the previous class period with that personal values question at the end of the day. Having their value in their mind, they will be responsible for writing a story based on their personal core values. These would be the values that they would want to pass down to their kids, nieces, or nephews. The values written into the story will have to be inconspicuous (or as much as they can). It would probably be most beneficial if the student have most of the class time to work on their story (the length of the story is something that can be tweaked to fit the general expectations of the grade level)(I also think that there should be a minimum page length rather than a max, or even a range. Some stories take a lot of time to get that lesson across). Save fifteen minutes at the end to debrief and think about their story.

Questions for Class 2:

  • What did you find was the most difficult part of the story writing process?
  • Do you think that you conveyed your value/ lesson clearly?
  • What do you think the benefits of listening to a family member/elder/storyteller tell a story with a lesson in it are?
    • Is it better or worse than just listening to them tell you directly?

Class Session 3: This class will be devoted to reading the student’s stories aloud (or in small groups?). The rest of the class will then try and guess what the “storyteller’s” teachable value would is.

Questions for Class 3:

  • Having listened to the class try and guess your values, do you think you did a good job conveying your value clearly without it being apparent?
  • Did you have a tough time not giving it away when the other students were getting close to guessing your value?

Anyway, these are just some ideas that I had about the project. I realize that I dove into it probably far further than I was expected to go, but that’s kind of what happens when you’re passionate about something.



Photo (Tlingit artist and storyteller, Gene Tagaban) courtesy of

Garnetifacts at the Alaska SLAM

Garnet new

Garnets {IV-B-155} courtesy of Alaska State Museum – Juneau

I found it quite difficult to narrow down the artifacts while visiting the Alaska SLAM. There were just so many things to choose from. Everything was almost too amazing! While perusing the glass cases toward the back of the museum, I found something that immediately grabbed my attention. In the mineral’s case, I found a garnet imbedded in rock. These were much like the ones that I used to harvest as a young boy with my Boy Scouts troop. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I found that the garnets came from right outside my hometown: Garnet Ledge near Wrangell, Alaska. While I was reading the plaque that this pertained to more closely, I found out that this particular sample was mined by the Alaska Garnet Mining & Manufacturing Company (AGM&M Co.) in the early 1900’s. This is where it gets really interesting. The AGM&M Co. was the first mining company entirely owned and managed by women (men would be hired to mine the garnets, but they weren’t responsible for running it). At a time when it wasn’t popular for women to be business owners, these women took this operation and ran with it.

The stake of land where the women would mine and manufacture was purchased by Anna E. Durkee (Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company). She was on her way to purchase a land plot in a nearby area to mine for copper. After mining some limited garnets, she made her way back to Minnesota to try and get backers for this company. She showed her close friends the garnets, and not long after, all the friends were getting excited about starting a mining company. They from the early 1900s and stopped mining around the mid to late 1920s.