Art has always been an integral part of Alaskan culture and history. Our state brims with artists and crafters working across diverse mediums to honor our heritage and traditions. Some produce crafts that are faithful representations of what their ancestors made thousands of years ago. Others, especially an exciting new generation of Native artists, create very modern items and gifts, reinterpreting our cultural artwork and adapting it to a contemporary context.
Either way, our artisans are the keepers of our customs, the storytellers of our most cherished folklore. Whether they’re creating with the hides of local wildlife, painting our landscapes, or sculpting the Thunderbird from sustainably harvested Alaskan Birch, artists preserve our past and bring it to life for each new generation. For that reason, many Alaskans look for ways to support our artists and craftsmen at every turn.
Luckily, locals, visitors, and those who appreciate Alaska from afar have a number of ways to support our artists year-round. For locals, it’s easy to drop by an art show or crafts fair and purchase a few pieces. Many bush villages hold bazaars at local schools and churches, but there are also several well-known art festivals and events across the state that feature hundreds of established and emerging artists. Here are some of our state’s biggest showcases for local talent:
- Alaska Native Customary Art Fair (Anchorage) – an art showcase featuring over 170 artists and craftsman, including Alaska Native artisans, as well as American Indians from the Lower 48.
- Alaska State Holiday Bazaar (Palmer) – an event that showcases hand-crafted Alaskan-made goods from every corner of the state.
- Anchorage Market’s Christmas Arts and Crafts Emporium (Anchorage) – the largest strictly Alaskan and strictly handmade show; a great way to stock up on gifts for the holiday season.
- Blueberry Arts Festival (Ketchikan) – over 150 artists and vendors attend this event, which also celebrates the delicious blueberry.
- Fairbanks Summer Art Festival (Fairbanks) – summer arts festival that, though originally music-centric, now includes theater and visual arts.
- Juneau Public Market (Juneau) – a holiday crafts show with over 175 vendors from 20 Alaskan cities.
- Make It Alaskan Festival (Anchorage) – features over 120 booths of local arts, crafts and jewelry from across Alaska.
- Midnight Sun Festival (Fairbanks) – street fair including over 200 vendors, many of which are local craftsmen.
- If travel dates don’t align with the above festivals there are still plenty of options. While several museums across the state feature local arts and crafts, three in particular sell vast selections of local wares in their gift shops year-round:
- Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage) – a cultural center that features several Alaska Native artist vendors demonstrating and selling their work in the museum’s Hall of Cultures.
- Anchorage Museum (Anchorage) – the Alaska Native art at the Museum Shop is carefully curated and several of the artists whose work is available for purchase also have work in the museum’s permanent collection.
- Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer’s Co-op (Anchorage) – co-operative owned by 250 women from remote coastal villages in Alaska; it sells exquisite Qiviut items, including scarves and stoles, smokerings, hats, tunics, and gifts.
If those aren’t an option in the near-term, several prominent artisans now sell their work online. Between galleries, personal websites and Etsy shops, wonderful handmade Alaskan goods are available year-round and delivered just about anywhere. Here are a handful of options:
- Home & Away Gallery – this gallery’s wonderful online store features baskets, sculpture, jewelry, prints, masks, and more. No matter the budget, a beautiful range of options are available. The gallery also carries the ivory carvings of the lauded Siberian Yup’ik/Inupiaq artist Susie Silook from Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Silook’s work is on permanent display in a number of museums, including de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; Anchorage Museum of Art & History, Anchorage, AK; Museum of the North, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.
- Sara Tabbert Studio – a Fairbanks artist working with prints and panels. She creates works on wood, prints and print collages inspired by the natural world. Her prints are both realistic and fantastical. She’s had exhibitions across Alaska, and has collections featured in several museums and galleries.
- Sealaska Heritage Shop – a heritage institute dedicated to preserving and sharing Southeast Alaskan Native culture. The store features authentic, contemporary art and gifts, including a range of jewelry and beautifully illustrated books. Check out these wonderful bracelets carved by the renowned Tlingit/Aleut artist Nicholas Gelanin from Sitka.
- The Art Shop Gallery – this gallery, based in Homer, has an online store that features a variety of crafts reflective of Alaskan life and culture. Gifts include handmade dolls and ornaments, hand-carved totems, glass art, tiles, ulus, pottery, and more.
- *Insider’s Tip: The Alaska House Art Gallery – While this stunning Fairbanks-based gallery doesn’t have a website or e-commerce capabilities, it is a must-visit for locals. Every item is authentic and one-of-a-kind. The gallery’s wares range from carvings to Native Alaskan dolls to artisanal jewelry, and pieces vary in style and price. Many visitors have dubbed it the keeper of the best Alaskan art in the region.
Our art breathes life into our past and illuminates traditions for the next generation. Handcrafted items, whether they are carvings of mythical creatures or native masks, serve as hallmarks of our heritage, heirlooms, and reminders about what makes Alaska special. Supporting local artisans enables them to continue their admirable work.