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 Robert Mayokok  (1903 - 1983)

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

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Ad Code: 3
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from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is based on information from the artist web site, whose address was provided by David and Chris Sweeney to the Librarian of

Born in Wales, Alaska, Robert Mayokok became a painter of subjects depicting his culture. He was a resident artist at the Alaska Treasure Shop for eighteen years, talking to visitors and designing Christmas cards, stationery, shopping bags, etc. His medium was ink and ink wash and then when he felt he had mastered that, he used color, usually on bleached animal skins including rabbit, caribou hide, cowhide and even pig skin. After 1970, he included three small birds in his drawings to symbolize the Holy Trinity of his Christian faith.

He was very prolific, selling two to three-thousand drawings a year. From the money he earned, he would purchase plane tickets and fly to other places in Alaska to promote his artwork. Many of his sketches were reproduced on pottery, wall plaques, and other items.

Growing up, he only attended school through the eighth grade but learned to speak English by studying Sears and Roebuck catalogs. A reproduction of a painting by Rembrandt in a classroom was his early inspiration to become a painter.

When Mayokok was fifteen in 1918, his life changed drastically from tragic circumstances. His mother died and then a flu epidemic ravaged his village, killing his father, grandfather and many others. It was many weeks before help arrived to bury the dead in the isolated area.

After that, he took a series of jobs including teacher, walrus hunter, fox trapper, reindeer herder, seiner, a gold and tin miner, longshoreman, and messboy on several boats. As a walrus hunter on a boat caught in an ice pack, he had a chance meeting with explorer Roald Amundsen on a schooner. He traveled to the Arctic with anthropologist Knud Rasmussen, and in 1922-23, became an interpreter for the Swedish Covenant Mission on Little Diomede. This experience led him to Christianity.

Among his many youthful experiences was a trip to various cities in a boxcar with eight wild reindeer that were shown at each stop, the final one being Boston. In 1939 he took another herd of wild reindeer to the New York World's Fair for a company that outfitted Arctic and North Pole expeditions. After the Fair, Mayokok traveled and lectured on Eskimo life.

From 1947 to 1950, he was hospitalized with tuberculosis and isolated from his family, and to avoid depression, he wrote stories about Eskimo life. He left the hospital before being officially discharged and financed his return trip home with his ivory engravings. Several years later, he had a tubercular relapse and spent two years in the Riverton Sanatorium in Seattle. During this time he began to paint and draw seriously, and after he was released he moved to Anchorage where he sold his drawings and began his residency at the Alaska Treasure Shop.

He also wrote a series of stories about Eskimo life that were published, and he illustrated several books. In 1964-65, he was again at the New York World's Fair, demonstrating his paintings and talking about his culture.

He died in 1983 and in addition to museums in the Northwest, his work is in the California Academy of Sciences and the Kodiak Historical Society. Several feature articles about him have been published: "My Life as an Eskimo" in "The Alaska Sportsman, August 1955 and September, 1955; "Robert Mayokok" in "The Alaska Journal," Vol. 6, 1976.

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Robert Mayokok is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska

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