The Walter Soboleff Center

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Funding Received: 2013
Juneau, AK
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 30, 2014

By Mary Richey

Brief Updates/ Recent Wins
Sealaska Heritage Institute has announced the artists for the permanent, monumental art in the Walter Soboleff Center.

The cedar-clad exterior of the Walter Soboleff building will feature huge, 40-foot panels designed by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will give the center a dramatic façade unlike any other structure in Southeast Alaska. Upon entering the main foyer, visitors will see what is thought to be the largest carved-and-painted Tsimshian clan house front in the world by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. An interior clan house space will showcase a spectacular carved glass house screen flanked by two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

All three tribal groups of the region will be represented in monumental art made by some of the best artists of our time, said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI), “Robert Davidson, David Boxley and Preston Singletary are some of the biggest names in Northwest Coast Native art. They are internationally renowned and recognized for their work,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “We have a dream team.”

Singletary’s piece, which is funded in part by our Artplace grant, will be the largest glass screen in the world, measuring 17 feet wide and 12 feet high at its peak and rendered in carved, amber-and-black glass. It will be flanked by two, glass seven-foot posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors.

SHI requested that warriors be incorporated into the design because they symbolize the protectors of our land and culture. Native people in the region were historically formidable in battle but they also became combatants in political, legal and educational battles, said Worl.

The Art for the Center should be completed by April 2015.  This area will host our Traditional Clan House and Preston’s Piece.  The structure of the clan house is taking shape and the cedar is in the final milling/kiln drying stages.  The cedar, which will finish off the interior, will provide the look and feel of a traditional clan house.  These cedar planks are 2.5” thick, vary in widths/lengths, and will cover the floors, walls, and ceiling.

We originally envisioned the Clan House screen and house posts would be created in wood; however, our selected applicant also works in glass and already has experience creating beautiful screens and house posts with elegant NW coast designs in glass. The higher price of glass compared to wood required us to secure additional funding for the artwork (SHI was successful thanks to a generous anonymous donor). The logistics surrounding the creation, shipping and installation of this glass art versus the intended wood art are quite different.  This is the largest glass screen of its kind in the world, so assuring that the final mounted piece will be stable and secure has our engineers working closely with the artist. SHI is currently developing the master apprentice schedule, which has also become more complex due to the fact that the nearest glass kiln capable of producing the modules for this artwork is located in Seattle.   The prospect to have an apprenticeship in working with glass has created a unique opportunity and therefore carries with it immense interest.

With the selection of a Tlingit artist, a Tsimshian Artist and Haida artist, all creating unique, monumental art pieces for our building, we will be able to incorporate and celebrate artforms by all three SE Alaskan tribes in one unified artplace, highlighting the beauty and strength of the artforms and their rightful place in our modern lives and environment. The combination of these pieces will intensify the arts and cultural experience of our artplace as you move from one piece to the next. We believe that our choice to select a more unique medium (glass) for the house posts and screen will help create more interest and a greater draw to our center, and further develop our artplace into a place where people like to be, to linger, and gain inspiration in their lives as well as artistically.