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Artist Biographies

Florence Malewotkuk’s portraiture of her subjects are handled with the confidence of a skilled expressionist. She volumizes her forms of walrus and ice with textured brushstrokes and informative contour. In contrast the water of the sea they float upon is expressed as flat, solid black area, which serves a dual purpose to illustrate deep water and to reinforce the chill in the atmosphere. Florence herself described the difficulties she faced in pursuing her artistic calling. “I like to do drawing, but it is sometimes very hard to draw in the agra, our winter houses, because we just have the light of three seal oil lamps and I have to lay on the floor, which is made from walrus hide, and my eyes hurt me sometimes.”

There were three different instances when Florence Malewotkuk would emerge into the art scene and re-establish her work to be highly coveted. Her debut was a commission by Otto Geist who asked her to depict traditional life of St Lawrence island, as he was there to do and archeological excavation in 1928. She produced 90 drawings and collectively they depict scenes of Siberian Yupik Eskimo in the early 20th century. Described by Geist as, “a hundred years ahead of all the other islanders”. She drew knowledgeably from life, illustrating the everyday life of the St Lawrence eskimo. Despite her warm reception into the art world, Florence decided to invest herself in her husband and adopted son. Her output was limited to pieces she could trade for goods with passing merchants. In 1955, her second establishment as an artist in the mainstream, Florence moved to Anchorage. Commissioned by Kay Roberts, Florence produced a beautiful series which was titled and reproduced as “Bering Sea Originals”. The reproductions gained the artist widespread fame but once again, Florence chose to retreat from the limelight in Anchorage back to St Lawrence Island. In 1964, Florence was among 32 Eskimos accepted into the Designer-Craftsmen Training Project, which instructed artist how to use traditional western mediums. Florence Malewotkuk was the only female artist to be accepted into the program. She graduated with immense skill in ink, pencil, crayon and watercolor but chose to continue her works on seal and walrus skins.

Florence Malewotkuk was dubbed Grandmother Moses for her Bering Sea Originals and she indeed lived up to her name. Because of how limited her production was, circulation of her original pieces are few and far between. Much of her works come from private estates and the opportunity for auction is an exciting opportunity for Alaska Auction Company. The few pieces we have seen are phenomenal pieces of fine art and culture are proud to be able to provide information and product of a this caliber.

Sources:

  • Jones, Suzi, editor. Eskimo drawings. Anchorage Museum of History and Art in association with Anchorage Museum Association, 2003. The Artist Napaaq 1906-1971 by Susie Silook Pages 137-155
  • Silook, Roger S. Seevookuk: stories the old people told on St. Lawrence Island. S.n., 1976. Illustrated by Florence Malewotkuk
  • http://dmangus.blogspot.com/2015/11/florence-nupok-malewotkuk-grandma-moses.html
  • http://www.ahgupuk.com/Florence%20Nupok%20Malewotkuk.html
  • http://www.askart.com/artist_bio/Florence_Nupok_Malewotkuk/113963/Florence_Nupok_Malewotkuk.aspx
  • https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/breathtaking-exhibit-seeks-to-preserve-alaska-native-art/

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