Young Haida Artists Rise to the Top

PC: Brian Wallace, Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute
PC: Brian Wallace, Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

Haida artists and artisans are renowned for their fine weaving, sharp lines, balanced negative space, and a keen eye for details. Jurors have been busy examining their work and tallying the scores. In this year’s round of art prizes, two major competitions have recognized the works of a few young Haida.

Haida weaver Xay Kuyaas Ariane Medley’s “Spruce Root basket” won Best of Endangered Division and Best of Show at the Sealaska Juried Art Show and Juried Youth Art Show. Sgwaayaans TJ Young’s Hlats’ux Northern Lights won in the 2D & Relief Carving Division and also the Best of Division. Sgwaayaans also won second place in the formline awards.

Alaskan jurors, who included Jackson Polys and Steve Henrikson and weaver Ilskyalas Delores Churchill, said Xay Kuyaas’ split spruce root basket was very finely woven and made with expertly prepared and split spruce roots.

The Sealaska Juried Art Show includes more than 40 works by nearly 30 different artists. The show is a part of Celebration; a four-day biennial festival that brings together Haida, Łingít, and Ts’msyen cultures. The show is on display at the Walter Soboleff Building in Dzánti K’ihéeni Juneau, Alaska until September.

Further south, the YVR Scholarship Awards have awarded over $400,000 in scholarships, grants and awards to more than 100 artists. Haida artists have been recognized since 2005 and three more were added to that list this year. Artist Skil Jaadee White and weaver Kwaxhi’laga, Jaad Kuujuus Meghann O’Brien are among those winning artists. Recipients win $5000 and also benefit from the exposure, connections, and support in their artistic endeavors throughout their career.

Heidi Marks won the YVR Art Foundation Aspiring Artist Awards given to British Columbia and Yukon First Nations youth who wish to explore their artistic potential and are between the ages of 13 and 19. The prize is awarded on an annual basis to artists who create visual art that reflects BC or Yukon First Nations’ culture.

Haida artists proudly reflect their culture to the world in wood, weaving, jewelry design, painting, printmaking, photography and other media. As a means of clearly identifying Haida artists and their work, the Council of the Haida Nation has a system to register artists. The system notes the artist and provides tags that identify their work as authentic. The system differentiates Haida artists’ work from that of other Nations in a growing market and provides patrons with certainty that the pieces they purchase are in fact created by Haida artists and are not the product of cultural appropriation.

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