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Blog of Robert Davis Hoffmann on TlingitArt.com

Salmon Boy

Tlingit salmon spawn painting by Robert Davis Hoffmann
Tlingit Salmon Boy story by Robert Davis Hoffmann
Tlingit Salmon Boy painting by Robert Davis Hoffmann

The story of Salmon Boy is told as a lesson in proper relationship with the land and its resources, with the Animal Peoples and the sacrifice they make that man should have sustenance. An attitude of utmost respect is demanded, since our lives depended on the land's bounty.

As this story goes, one young boy and thrown away (or spat out) in disgust a moldy piece of fish. The Tlingit always understood that our respect toward the salmon guaranteed they would return again. The consequence of Salmon Boy's offensiveness was that he had to become a salmon, thus experiencing necessary sacrifice to become our food.

Salmon boy returned to the river by his village, where he was speared by his father. When his mother cut into him, her knife hit a copper neck ring she immediately recognized as the neck ring made for her son. She wrapped the body in cedar mat, and later the boy emerged as a shaman, who could commune with the Salmon People.

I've painted a couple versions of this story over the years. Here they are oldest to most recent:

Sealaska Heritage Institute put together a booklet (pdf) of the Tlingit Salmon Boy story, with translation, for children.

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Art, Culture, and Living in Two Worlds

Tlingit Art Culture and Identity article

That line between two worlds is becoming blurred in the sense that we Natives live in the global, modern, technological, achievement-oriented 21st century world. On the other hand, we are responsible for defining and determining our cultural identity, traditions, meanings, lifestyles. Part of it is maintaining core parts of our culture, while choosing which parts we continually redefine. For example, our language is something that needs to be kept alive by using it as accurately as it has always been used, whereas some traditions and ceremonies evolve, but others are kept as close to the old way of doing things as possible. While there are many authorities and scholars on Tlingit culture, we are the ones who attribute meaning. We are the ones who create our own context. We create our own identity.

When I was younger, I struggled with my cultural identity. My father was Tlingit and my mother White. Belonging to two ethnicities conflicted me and kept me feeling like an outsider wherever I was. I had to learn to integrate what felt like a schism. The process was long, and the path to where I am today was quite rocky. I am a product of both worlds. As a young artist and writer, this conflict came out pointedly. In SoulCatcher (1986, Ravens Bones Press, Sitka) a themes of built-in inaccuracy, sarcasm, blame and discontentedness runs through that early collection. That was basically my internal state.

As an artist, I wanted to learn how to become a traditional artist, but I was also trying to market my work. Another conflict! Here's one of those early poems:

The Albino Tlingit Carving Factory

We do not take the time huntingfor the perfect grained red cedarto split planks from with wedge and stone maul.We do not talk to the trees.We do not hew and adzeand season our boards. No.They come from Spenard Building Supplyon Katlian Streetat $2.15 per board foot.

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Tradition of Celebration

OurLand-sm
4 Core Values

I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the idea of celebration as part of our Tlingit culture, and as of 1982 the Sealaska Celebration has become a biennial tradition, "born of SHI's Board of Trustees' desire to celebrate and showcase Southeast Alaska Native traditions and customs" as explained on Sealaska Heritage Institute About Celebration webpage.

Celebration is a new tradition. Celebration is an occassion. It occurs every other even year. We celebrate our culture and our identity at this event. Out of large public displays such as SHI Celebration, perhaps the younger generation will learn that it is possible to celebrate our culture and identity frequently, daily even. Because culture is not separate from who we are or what we do daily. And identity is something we constantly redefine and reaffirm. Events such as Celebration are important in regard to reaffirmation.

I am looking forward to when I can attend Celebration; currently my seasonal schedule at the Sheldon Jackson Museum keeps me in Sitka during that time. I do have a dance staff that has never been danced. Being an artist, my favorite part of Celebration is the Artist Market. This year was the first Juried Art show I entered, and I was pleased that my painting, "Our Land" qualified for entry. Here's the press release on the 2014 Juried Art Show winners. Also on YouTube, David R. Boxley who had the difficult job of judging the entries, announcing the awards.

The piece I entered was titled "Haa Aani" (Our Land) which shows creatures representing Sky-Water-Land. acrylic on birch panel 30 x 24 x 1 5/8" done in traditional formline style. I got the idea from an earlier submission to SHI for the Walter Sobeloff Center which was to represent our 4 Core Values. You can see the value "Haa Aani" in the lower corner of the image on the below. Somehow the top of my image got clipped off, but you can see the where the inspiration came from.

Design is what I love to do. I'm getting close to retirement, and when I retire, design is ALL I'm going to do!

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