Earl Atchak


Artist Statement

“I have been an artist ever since I can remember, making art to sell with my aunties as well as toys for myself. In growing up, I’ve always believed in four things: I could support myself without any help from anyone, no food stamps, no free housing from the government, just me. I am a good hunter; I’ve always known who I am; I always remember where I’m from; and, to know where I’m going. Living the life of an artist allows me to do that.


“I have made various items since my career began in 1980—especially masks, detailed Cupik figures, and composite sculptures—using such materials as driftwood, ivory, baleen, whalebone, furs, and skins. My partner Lisa Unwin does the sewing for these. In making my “doll” sculptures I am particularly concerned with the realism of the hands and faces and the accuracy of my representation. The sculptures have gradually become more and more complex in recent years; for example, one shows a group of people of different ages and personalities riding in a boat made out of whale jawbone. Another shows a shaman helping to find seals for the hunters; supported by a whale vertebrae she is shown diving down toward a small carved seal that is suspended beneath her at the open center of the vertebrae.


“I still live in Chevak and I make my art using traditional tools and methods with the knowledge I have acquired from years of carving and listening to the stories of my elders. Every single piece of art requires my spirit, my body, and my mind to be one, to be able to see clearly the end result of my work.


“I try to bring something from the past to share and preserve my culture for the future. I follow my people’s traditions of carving, but my interpretation is personal. I watched my grandfather Joe Friday carve ceremonial masks and listened to his stories. I gain insights, direction, and strength through the stories of how my people lived their total subsistence lifestyle. Through my work, I can express my ideas of tradition—those feelings of being part of a culture that is thousands of years old.”