News / Blog

Q&A with Larry R. Ahvakana | 1993 GAP, Visual

Artist Trust

photo: Portrait with Whale Hunter Clay Model

Q: What kind of art do you make?
A: I am a sculpture and work in wood, stone, glass, prints and assorted other media.  My work is Neo-Aboriginal environmental design inspired by my Inupiat culture.

Q: What did you use your award for?
A: I used it for materials in preparation for the following shows: Visions of Alaska at the Denise Wallace Studio in Santa Fe, Sculpture Walk in Sedona, Arizona, Native Visions ‘93 at the Pico Rivera Centre for the Arts in California, Signals in Sculpture at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, and an installation at the Seattle Art Museum.
Q: What was the impact of this award/Artist Trust on your art career/life?
A: It helped me be a part of the shows and expand my exposure in the American Indian,Alaska Native Art community.  From there I received invitations to other shows.

My parents and I left Barrow and moved to Anchorage when I just turned 6 years old.  I only spoke Inupiaq with very little English.  Communicating with others was hard, but I made friends.  I slowly lost most of my Inupiat language because I was not being constantly taught.  Teaching was by example and my folks wanted me to learn English to be successful in the modern world.  While many people from Barrow would visit and they spoke Inupiaq as they talked and ate native food, the cultural influences on me seemed minimal.  My mother was a fabulous skin sewer and seamstress.  She sold her craft. My dad was in the Army and the National Guard. 
I incorporated my tradition in my work after being inspired by my instructors at the Institute of American Indian Arts.  They emphasized looking to our own traditions for inspiration.  I realized how important my culture was because of their influence. I graduated from the Institute of American Indian Art and Rhode Island School of Design and took classes at the Cooper Union School of Design where I worked on expressing my cultural experiences within my work. 
I like to work with new materials to express my ideas.  Sharing ideas about images with other artists and communities about materials, and tools is an intricate part of tradition.  One is only limited by one’s knowledge and openness to learning new ways of the arts; it’s always good.  I feel the culture of an artist, the ways of an artist - is an integral part of the art being shown.  The integration part of culture is the story and gives the artwork feeling and a place in the environment. 
I feel Inupiat (Northern Eskimo) Culture and art has not been represented very much in the world.  I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area for the past 36 years.  It’s very very important for me to share my culture through art, music and dance and with my artwork.
I am and have been actively involved, currently as elders, with my wife, Donna Huff-Ahvakana in the local (Pacific Northwest) with the Northwest Inupiat Dancers, a resident group from the Northwestern Alaska Inupiat community.  We present our culture throughout the Pacific Northwest in public events such as Title 9 programs, Folk Life Festival, Bumbershoot, at most of the Washington State Pow Wow celebrations, public school programs, and many other public and private events with our dances and story telling.

Written by Donna M Huff-Ahvakana as told by Lawrence (Larry) R. Ahvakana.