Pratt Museum exhibits works by famed Inupiat artist

Senungetuk won global recognition as sculptor, silversmith and woodcarver

A wood carving of the Arctic sun gifted by Senungetuk to the Homer Foundation in thanks for drawings by the late nationally recognized wildlife artist Bill Berry given to him by Ken Castner, now mayor of Homer, when both men served together on the board of the Homer Foundation. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

It’s not his first solo show at Homer’s Pratt Museum, but for aficionados of the work of sculptor, silversmith and woodcarver Ron Senungetuk it’s significant to see the cumulative impact of 55 years of the internationally renowned artist’s work.

“He is so revered and so loved here,” said Rika Mouw, a jewelry maker and close friend of the Senungetuk family. Mouw was on hand on Friday, Oct. 22, along with Jennifer Gibbins, executive director of the museum, to talk with visitors at the opening reception of work of the internationally celebrated artist and Homer resident, who passed away in 2020. Senungetuk’s wife Turid, also an artist, attended the event as well.

The exhibit originated at the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, moved to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and opened in Homer in October.

“In Homer we included the Holloware,” said Mouw, referring to the silver serving dish, candlesticks and other fine dining implements owned by the Senungetuk family, that he created while a student at the School of American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Mouw was instrumental in gathering local pieces of Senungetuk’s work to add to the exhibit. Most of the local contributions are on display in the museum’s community room, including his wood carvings in tribute to spouting whales, the Arctic sun and aurora borealis.

Ron Senungetuk. Photo by Michael Armstrong/Geo France, courtesy of the Pratt Museum

In the main gallery, along with the Holloware, are more of his wood carvings and jewelry.

Senungetuk was born in Wales, on the western tip of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and, and grew up with traditional Inupiat values.  His artistic talents were recognized at an early age and he was sent to study at the Bureau of Indian Affairs high school in Sitka. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School for America Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and won a Fulbright scholarship to Statens Handverks of Kunstindustri Skole, in Oslo, Norway, where he studied sculpture and metal smithing.

Accolades for Senungetuk over the years included the Alaska Governor’s Award or the Arts, a Distinguished Artist Award from The Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts lifetime achievement award.

Senungetuk was the founder and director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Native Arts Center and served as head of the UAF Art Department from 1977 until his retirement in 1986, when he was named professor of art, emeritus. In 2015, he was given an honorary doctorate from UAF for his advocacy of art for Alaska.  He also served on the boards of the Homer Foundation and Homer’s Bunnell Street Arts Center.

Key funding for the exhibit, which will continue through Dec. 18, came from the Homer Foundation and Lynden Logistics.