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NW Coast Formline and Printmaking


I’ve stated before my love of teaching our Tlingit formline design. I teach about the uses of our art as clan crests. I teach about the basic rules in order to start designing within this art style. I try to make it interesting, meaningful and fun.

So I was thrilled when Tara Alcock, the Petersburg Borough Librarian, contacted me in September to see if I would teach a workshop at the new Petersburg Public Library! It’s a beautiful building inside and out, and I was eager to see it. Take a look. I was pleased to see all the artwork installed. Art belongs in public places. The library has a very inviting and cozy feeling to it. My brother and I got a guided tour from our cousin Ross Nannauck (Ross on Facebook) and he has a paddle that’s part of the permanent collection there.

As soon as I knew I was definately going to Petersburg, I wanted to make the one day workshop into a little more than just design. I had been wanting to teach printmaking as part of a formline class, and this was the perfect opportunity, especially when the Petersburg Library was in a position to purchase some beginner block-printing kits from Dick Blick. They’re really good about publicizing events in Petersburg and even a few weeks prior, I was interviewed over the phone and the Petersburg Press ran an article on the workshop.

My wife and I learned some really simple, cheap and fun techniques during Sitka Fine Arts Camp when they had their summer camp instructors teach evening classes for adults. That was the greatest idea, whoever came up with that. It allows community members to also learn (and have fun) from their camp instructors. When we saw Printmaking being offered for adults, we jumped at the opportunity. Jessica Krichels was the instructor. I have to say, after a long day with the kids, she tolerated us adult kids really well. Here’s some of Jessica’s prints.

Teaching in Kake

In addition to my Petersburg trip being a good opportunity to add printmaking to a Tlingit formline class, I turned it into a short side trip to my hometown, Kake. Kake has been called the “banana belt” of southeast Alaska because of its micro-climate. It’s not only got some of the most breath-taking scenery, it is slower paced and quieter. I find it much easier to get back to nature in small villages. I am fed by the things that fed my own ancestors. Our art comes from that taproot.

In Kake, I coordinated with Evelyn Wilburn, Kake Schools Principal who is always very generous in using the school classrooms for public workshops like this. It was a chance to use my Petersburg presentation and incorporate printmaking. It was a small group but to me, any opportunity to share art is worth the effort. I also did a poetry reading and book signing another night to promote my recent (self-published) book of poems, Village Boy: Poems of Cultural Identity (for sale on Amazon also in Kindle format).

The day we were leaving Kake for Petersburg on the Taku ferry, my oldest brother wanted to take Alan and I out fishing. I did NOT see how we were going to work that into a trip and was having some anxiety, but it turned out to be a perfect day to be out on the water, and see my home town from the water, like I had done many many times when I used to live there.

Teaching in Petersburg

My younger brother, Alan Davis came with me to Petersburg to help out with the block printing part. The size of the class was limited to 15 but even though a few more showed up I was glad to have the extra hands on deck: Alan, Ross, and Tara. Alan is a really good artist too, and I hope to host some of his work on my website some day. The participants were really interested, and I think it was enjoyable for everyone. Having the Dick Blick kits pre-ordered and included in the class fees was a good idea. I think Tlingit art is better understood when one begins to actually carve the designs, and block printing is a good warmup to wood carving.


We were made very comfortable while boarding at Das Hagedorn Haus, and the hosts Grant and Lila Trask knew many of the people who were friends we had in common. We had the best breakfasts each morning, accompanied by stories and history. Initially I selected that place for the German name, which means The Hawthorne (tree) House, but was very glad that was my choice. We were walking distance to everything, although I did bring my old beater of a car (which wouldn’t start the day we were to catch the ferry back!). All’s well that ends well. I really enjoyed myself, and the time I got to spend with my brother.



Posted in Tlingit Art