Cordova artists give time and talent to support Eyak Foundation scholarships

Brennan Caine, vice president and general counsel for The Eyak Corporation vice president, speaks with attendees during the First Friday Fall Harvest art show at Snow City Café. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times
Brennan Caine, vice president and general counsel for The Eyak Corporation vice president, speaks with attendees during the First Friday Fall Harvest art show at Snow City Café. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times

Paintings, a carved mask and a fullsize handmade traditional qayaaq (kayak) all made by Cordova artists will be displayed at Snow City Café for the month of November. The Fall Harvest Art Show and Silent Auction debuted during Anchorage’s Nov. 1 First Friday downtown art walk.

“Sold” stickers tagged nearly every item by the end of the opening event, raising $29,000 toward Eyak Foundation scholarships.

“There’s a wonderful feedback loop happening here,” said Thomasina Andersen, an Eyak Foundation Trustee.

Eyak shareholders and descendants are not only donating their time and art to support scholarships, but also passing on their knowledge to develop a new generation of artists, Andersen said.

A painting of a raven with a red background is a first work produced by Anya Honkola. The painting was used on the show’s promotional materials. Honkola is new to the art scene and created the piece during a painting workshop taught by Sylvia Lange. Her work hung on the wall just below a seal painting of Lange’s. Both sold during the opening.

Lange, owner of the Reluctant Fisherman Inn in Cordova, began painting six years ago for the first Eyak Foundation benefit art show. Lange says she looked at the size of the walls in Snow City Café and thought, “We’re going to need more art to fill this space.”

Previously, Lange drew, but didn’t consider herself a painter. That changed six years ago when she purchased a stack of canvases and painted 11 works for the first Eyak Foundation show. This year she donated five paintings to the show and taught a workshop to help others create works for the event.

Cordova wood carver Mike Webber donated a carved mask to the exhibit. Webber teaches carving workshops, passing down traditional skills. Several attendees were also wearing Copper River Fleece jackets with custom ribbons designed by Webber.

Painting on display at Snow City Café for The Eyak Foundation’s Fall Harvest benefit art show. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times
Painting on display at Snow City Café for The Eyak Foundation’s Fall Harvest benefit art show. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times

One of Webber’s carving workshop students, Brooke Johnson, attached a fishhook carving she had made under Webber’s coaching to one of her paintings displayed in the show.

“It was my first carving,” she said. Johnson is a teacher and culturebearer herself. As director of Ilanka Cultural Center in Cordova, she organizes various Eyak cultural classes and workshops throughout the year.

One workshop she organized was a traditional qayaaq and palaaq (canoe) building class  taught by master carver Mitch Poling. The highestticket item of the art show was a qayaaq frame created by Nick Tiedeman, on which he began work during the boat building class.

The Eyak Corporation purchased the kayak and plans to hang it from the ceiling in their board room, said Brennan Cain, vice president and general counsel the Native corporation that co-hosted the event with The Eyak Foundation.

The Eyak Foundation was created in 1997 to provide educational and charitable benefits to Eyak Corporation shareholders and their descendants. So far, 56 scholarships have been awarded in 2019. Applications are always open.

The event also hosted a silent auction. Some auction items included handmade earrings, embroidered pillows, sealskin accessories and even a smoked salmon.

“This is by far, the biggest turnout we’ve had for this event,” said Heidi Van Gilder, program coordinator for The Eyak Foundation. Van Gilder grew up in Cordova and is product of The Eyak Foundation’s scholarships.

A qayaaq (kayak) frame built by Nick Tiedeman was the highest ticket item sold during the show. It will be displayed in The Eyak Corporation’s board room. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times
A qayaaq (kayak) frame built by Nick Tiedeman was the highest ticket item sold during the show. It will be displayed in The Eyak Corporation’s board room. (Nov. 1, 2019) Photo by Annette Potter/The Cordova Times

“It’s awesome to be on each side, having the experience as a shareholder descendant-recipient of the scholarship program and then being able to come work for my corporation and help with handing out scholarships for the students,” she said. “I got the help and now I’m able to help. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to give back and share in the student excitement.”

Eyak Shareholder Louise Whetsell attended the event specifically to purchase one of Lange’s paintings. She said she went to pay for it there was some confusion about who had first claimed the painting. Lange told Whetsell — both on the point of tears — that she would paint another for her. Just then a mutual friend surprised them both by announcing he had purchased it for Whetsell as a surprise gift.

“Then I cried again,” Whetsell recounted, this time tears of happiness.

The art show will remain on display through the month of November at Snow City Café, which donated the gallery space and waived commission fees. Art collectors will be able to pick up their purchases at The Eyak Corporation in early December.

To find out more, visit eyakfoundation.org.