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 Florence Nupok Malewotkuk  (1906 - 1971)

About: Florence Nupok Malewotkuk
 

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Lived/Active: Alaska      Known for: Alaskan genre, animal

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Florence Nupok Malewotkuk
An example of work by Florence Nupok Malewotkuk
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in the village of Gambell, on Saint Lawrence Island, Florence Nupok Melewotkuk became a painter and illustrator of daily-life scenes that reflected early 20th-century culture of the Siberian Yup'ik Eskimo. She favored a realistic style, somewhat naive, that earned her the title of "Grandma Moses of the Bering Sea." Promoted and marketed by people who believed in the quality of her work, she was inadvertently pioneering and unique in a culture where art was primarily a male pursuit.

She began drawing at age eight and used any paper she could find including labels from canned goods. In 1926, she married Chauncy Malewotkuk and a year later began a series of drawings, about ninety in total, for Otto William Geist, who was conducting archaeological excavations on Saint Lawrence Island. This work included figure studies, fur clothing, and women's tattoo markings, and the entire collection is housed in the Archives of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Photos of these pieces are at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

For many years after that, Florence did little art work because she devoted herself to homemaking and raised her adopted son, Woodrow. But in 1955, Kay Roberts, an artist from Anchorage, commissioned Florence to do a series of drawings that were later reproduced under the copyrighted name of "Bering Sea Originals." This brought little income after the initial purchase but earned Florence some widespread attention.

In 1964, she was the only woman among thirty-two Eskimo accepted into a government funded crafts project of the Manpower Training Act, which offered instruction for artists on the use of new equipment, materials and designs for marketing their work. With this education, she prolifically used ink, pencil, and crayon media, and did exquisite drawings on seal and walrus skins.

After 1965, she became one of the highly promoted commercial artists of Alaska, with reproductions of her work on Christmas cards, note paper, plastic place mats, dishes, etc. Many of these items were marketed under the name of "Bering Sea Originals," and her original work is in numerous museums and private collections. Florence Malewotkuk died in 1971 after a lengthy illness, and that same year a retrospective of her work was shown at the University of Alaska.

Periodicals that refer to her work are: "Alaskan Eskimo Art Today" by Saradell Ard Frederic in "The Alaska Journal, Vol.2, No. 4 (1972), pp. 30-41; and "Archaeological Excavations at Kukulik," by Otto William Geist in "Miscellaneous Publications of the University of Alaska," US Department of the Interior, 1936.


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