Artwork from more than 170 artists and craftspeople, including Cordova’s Gloria Cunningham, Brittany Banks, Peggy McDaniel and Mary Babic, will be for sale at the Alaska Native Customary Art Show, during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage Oct. 19-21.
Other Alaska Native artists from Cordova may also be attending AFN this year, but in this issue of The Cordova Times we are highlighting four local artists who are preparing to participate in the art show, which has been held in conjunction with AFN conventions for over 30 years.
The art show, well known as a good place to purchase Alaska Native and American Indian artwork, celebrates the unique art forms and cultures of these craftspeople.
Cunningham, who is of Athabascan and Aleut descent, is the owner of Gloria’s Creations, and has been selling her original crafts at the AFN art show for nearly 10 years.
“I enjoy being a part of my Native heritage,” she said. “It’s so neat to see so many family members and friends, and meet new ones.”
She started Gloria’s Creations about 12 years ago, thinking she should begin selling her homemade crafts under a business name.
Cunningham said she was 12 years old when her mom thought it was time for her to learn how to sew furs and clothing, and to bead.
“It also kept me close to home,” Cunningham said. “She taught me what she knew. My dad and brothers got the furs for us to sew. When I was old enough to get some animals myself, that was an exciting time in my life.”
She learned to bead from an aunt, later on picking up the Athabascan style of beadwork from a family friend. Today, her sons, Robert and Jerry Cunningham, hunt and trap to provide their mom with furs for her handicrafts.
Cunningham said she’s also passing down her traditional heritage to her daughter, Audrey Cunningham.
“I’ve been teaching Audrey how to sew fur things, passing on what I’ve learned and keeping it in the family,” she said.
Banks, who is of Chugach Aleut descent, paints colorful one-of-a-kind works of art depicting Alaska’s animals. She also uses those designs to produce coffee mugs, cards and clothing for children and adults.
A lifelong resident of Cordova, she started painting with her dad at a young age, and has taken several art classes throughout the years.
Today, she owns her own business, Northland Critters.
“I also paint family name signs and welcome signs,” she said. “This year, I’ve added children’s clothing to the list of products I create.”
For the past six years, Banks has sent her paintings to Anchorage with her mom, Peggy McDaniel, and her aunt, Mary Babic, to sell. This year, Banks will attend AFN’s art show with McDaniel and Babic.
“We love working together and having a variety of our artwork available,” Banks said. “I love to see all the different and traditional artwork.”
Chugach Aleut sisters Mary Babic and Peggy McDaniel, who own Alutiiq Creations, have resided in Cordova for 35 years, said they’ve been working together for about 10 years, and attending the Alaska Native Customary Art Show, part of AFN, for the same amount of time.
“Our artwork is made from traditional materials that include harbor seal and sea otter harvested from Prince William Sound, and tanned salmon skins,” McDaniel said.
The artistic duo makes traditional items such as trapper hats, mittens, slippers and vests, and said they love to create a mix of modern in with traditional designs.
This year the women are bringing purses, sea otter scarves and collars, wallets, fish skin earrings, bow and bolo ties, and dolls to the art fair.
“We’ve been sewing and beading since we came to Cordova in the ’80s,” McDaniel said. “Art has always been part of our family, so we have always had an interest with it. We have learned some things on our own, and taken some classes.”
The sisters enjoy attending the annual art show and sale because they love working together and sharing their traditions and culture with others, McDaniel said.
“We love going to AFN every year – it is so inspiring. There’s so much talent in Alaska. It is one of our favorite times, you get to meet up with your AFN friends and family, and in going to these shows you meet a lot of new people,” McDaniel said.
The Alaska Native Customary Art Show will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 19-20, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage.