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A Primer On Alaska Native Art

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Photo Album

On this page you will find pictures of different types of historic or traditional Alaska Native artifacts. This will give you a basis to better recognize the innovations modern Native artists and craftspeople incorporate into their pieces.

It is important to note that historic Native groups did not necessarily consider their work to be "art" per se, rather they created these pieces as practical, and useful tools for their everyday lives. Though a parka or pair of mukluks may have had beautiful and intricate decorations, even these told a necessary story about a person's identity. Beautifully carved, complex masks were often destroyed after a particular cermemony was over.

The concept of art did not come into play until non-Natives came to Alaska and began to barter and trade for collections or resale. This was the inception of the Native art market that exists today.

Note: all images on this page have been reproduced through the courtesy of the Alaska State Museum system.


This is a picture of an incised walrus tusk crib board with pictographic images. It was produced by an Inupiat Eskimo.This type of tusk decoration became known as scrimshaw.


This is a Yupik Eskimo story knife of walrus ivory also, and also has symbolic designs. It was used by young girls to make pictures of a story in the mud.


This is a pair of sealskin boots, commonly called "mukluks". They are decorated with other types of fur and beadwork, and sewn together with sinew.


This is a bag made from smoked moose hide by an Athabaskan Indian. More elaborately beaded ones were made for trading to the coastal Tlingit Indians-called "octopus bags".


This is a light weight birch bark canoe, used to navigate one of the many interior rivers of Athabaskan Indian territory. The bark skin was attached to a spruce frame, and laced together with spruce root and pitch.


This Aleut hunting hat was made from carefully carved and bent driftwood, and decorated with bright pigments, ivory, beads, and sealion whiskers. It helped protect hunters from cresting waves, and added a spiritual element to a hunters success.

Information and "Webtour" of Native Alaskan Arts and Crafts