Alaska’s Capitol Features Student Art

Minnesota is starting to wrestle with what to do about some of the more controversial art in its state capitol and the lack of diversity it shows. Healing Minnesota Stories is looking at art in other state capitols to see what lessons and ideas it can find. Today, its Alaska.

According to the Alaska capitol’s self-guided tour book, it has several significant pieces of art done by Native peoples or about Native peoples:

  • The lobby features a bust of Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, an Alaska Native leader from Petersburg whose testimony before the 17th Territorial Legislature split the opposition and allowed the Alaska Civil Rights Act of 1945 to pass.
  • Two stone-fired clay murals flank the lobby, depicting life in Alaska in the 1930’s. “Harvest of the Sea” shows fishermen on Alaska coastal waters and “Harvest of the Land” depicts Alaska Natives hunting in Interior Alaska. (This link provides many other images from inside the Capitol, including historic photos of indigenous people as well as “Camp Fire Girls” from 1919, just keep scrolling.)
  • The handles on the doors leading into the Senate Chambers are hand-cast brass in a totemic design representing an eagle, a whale, and a bear.
  • Natives from Haines carved the double doors leading to the Governor’s Office from black birch. The carvings depict Alaska’s major industries: tourism (Tlingit dancer); fishing and processing; wood products; mining; hunting and trapping; and oil and gas.

State leaders also have made a point of featuring student art in the Capitol. Here is what the state legislature’s website says:

Student art has been brightening the halls of the Capitol for our governors, legislators, Alaskans and tourists for many years. Originally a collaboration of the Alaska Alliance for the Arts in Education, the Alaska Department of Education and the Legislative Affairs Agency, Art in the Capitol displays work by Alaskan elementary, middle and high school students. The program began in 1988. Since that time, participating teachers from across the state have worked with students to submit quality artwork representing their diverse experiences and varied techniques.

Click on the legislative link above and scroll down, and there are links to images of student art from 40 different schools recently hung in the Capitol.

This approach is particularly interesting to us at Healing Minnesota Stories. We worked with art teacher Rachel Latuff to develop a lesson plan that takes students on a virtual tour of Minnesota Capitol art, then assigns them the task of creating their own Capitol art. We have had three schools do variations of the project: North View Junior High in Brooklyn Park, North Woods in Cook, and Oshki Ogimaag Charter School in Grand Portage. This project has evolved into a traveling art exhibit. It has the added wrinkle of asking students to write an artist’s statement explaining what their work means to them.

Interested? Check out our website page: Indians in Public Art: Myths and Misconceptions

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