Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Local youth bring formline to skateboards


Photo submitted by Tessa Appleman

Aaliyah Messmer works on her formline design during ANSA's skateboard decorating course on Aug. 3.

Area youth tried their hands at an old art form last week, during a three-day formline course put on by the Alaska Native Sisterhood Association.

Formline as a style of art is traditional to the people of Southeast Alaska, and its distinctive loop and hooks are widely seen in the designs of various totems, screens, regalia and other works. For the purposes of the Aug. 8-10 class, the canvas in this case was the bottoms of skateboards, which their designers have the option of eventually outfitting with trucks and wheels themselves or else hanging the boards as art.

Art teacher Ronnie Fairbanks was brought from Craig to head the class, which walked pupils through the process of formline design.

"He's a fantastic artist," commented Tis Peterman, ANSA secretary and director. Fairbanks has been to Wrangell for the regional high school Art Fest twice, and Peterman has met him through other Native functions.

Pederman said Fairbanks had been enthusiastic about the project, and had endeavored to make the course informative as well as fun. There was even homework the first evening, as participants were encouraged to come up with their own designs.

"We had about 25 kids that hung in there," said Pederman. "They just went for it. Some of them were really neat."

One brother and sister duo contrived corresponding sides of a larger design on their boards. Other kids had patterned out local wildlife and cultural touchstones using the formline style. The second day Fairbanks gave some pointers on the designs the kids had come up with, before having them put down their art in pencil on the skateboards.

"There was a lot of erasing," Pederman noted.

Once their patterns were perfected, the final day saw students fill in their sketched outlines with swatches of color, painting with acrylics. The kids had a good time, with breakfasts, lunches and snacks provided to help them put in long days of design.

"They were really engaged with this class," said Pederman. "I never saw one cellphone."

The idea for the formline course had come about when planning for use of a $10,000 grant ANSA received from Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI). Entitled "A Journey to What Matters," the grant program emphasizes the artistic and cultural traditions of Alaska Native peoples.

Along with additional funding raised by ANSA and grants from Wells Fargo, First Bank and SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, the funds supported a variety of art classes. This year Wrangell residents have been able to learn how to weave baskets and make moccasins as a result, and Pederman explained a final course on Raven's Tail weaving is being planned. The group also sponsored a basketball camp for area youth in early June.

ANSA was founded in 2006, created as a non-profit and lately refocused to promote cultural and recreational activities in Wrangell.


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