Remembering the legacy of Ron Senungetuk
Alaskan artist Ronald Senungetuk blazed new trails for indigenous artists around the world.
He was born in the village of Wales in 1933 where he lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle. When he was 15, he attended Mt. Edgecumbe, a boarding school in Sitka. Despite knowing very little English, he excelled in school. He then attended The Rochester Institute of Technology, where he received a degree in Fine Arts. At the same time, serving a two-year stint in the Army. He received a Fullbright Fellowship to study art in Oslo, Norway.
Returning home to Alaska, Senungetuk worked at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where he would become the head of the Art Department. He founded UAF’s metalsmithing program and established the Alaska Native Arts Program.
The Alaska Native Art Program is where Senungetuk would really make his mark. He hated the term “Eskimo Art”. He felt that art was art, regardless of your cultural background. He is considered to be responsible for elevating indigenous art from “Tourist art” to contemporary art.
“When you talk about contemporary Alaska Native art, to my mind, there is the art that came before Ron and the art that came after Ron,” says Aaron Leggett, the Curator of History and Culture at the Anchorage Museum.
Senungetuk’s art is displayed in museums around the world. In 2007 he received the Rasmuson Foundation's Distinguished Artist Award. In 2014 he was honored by the Alaska State Arts Council with a lifetime achievement award.
Senungetuk passed away in January of this year.
Leggett at the Anchorage Museum noted, “It’s just hard to imagine what art in Alaska would look like without Ron.”