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 Ronald Senungetuk  (1933 - )

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Lived/Active: Alaska      Known for: native Inuit figure animal imagery

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Ronald Senungetuk
An example of work by Ronald Senungetuk
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ronald Senungetuk is one of Alaska's best-known native artists, noted for his work primarily in wood and metal. Senungetuk is Inupiaq, born in the village of Wales, on the Seward Peninsula, and he has spent most of his life in Alaska.

Senungetuk attended the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology and received more art training in Oslo, Norway, under a Fulbright Fellowship.

His work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally. He founded the Native Art Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he also taught art until his retirement in 1988. He now lives in Homer, where he continues to make and exhibit artwork.

The following are portions of Ronald Senungetuk's own writings for public statements he provided for hearings held in Fairbanks and Anchorage in October 1969.

"My name is Ronald Senungetuk. I have spent most of my life in Alaska, once as a member of village of Wales at Seward Peninsula and more recently as a member of the faculty of the University of Alaska.

I left Alaska in 1953 to study art at Rochester, New York. My studies were interrupted by two years in the United States Army which took me to places such as South Carolina and Western Germany. After the military service, I returned to Rochester to resume my studies. I graduated in 1960. I earned a BFA degree. After that I applied for and received a one year Fulbright Scholarship for graduate study at Oslo, Norway. I then returned to Alaska in 1961 to join the University of Alaska as a Visiting Carnegie Professor of Design. I organized the art department's metalcrafts program and have since been involved in variety of art programs and activities. I presently direct the Native Arts and Crafts Center, which attempts to develop valid traditional and contemporary artists in today's society. As a resident of the State of Alaska, I served as member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Only about three weeks ago, I served as consultant and guest speaker at the National Endowment on the Arts Conference in Washington D.C.

I grew up in a very typical Eskimo village. Wales in the 1940's had about 150 people. Today, Wales still exists even though many people moved to Nome. The village way of life at that time was about 99% Eskimo, culturally, and 1% Euro-American as compared to today's more or less 50 - 50 situation. At the time I left Wales, I was 15 years old. I spoke almost no English and I really went through cultural torment. For example I had to copy people eating in the airplane. I really did not know how to use forks and spoons. The plane that took me to the boarding school in Sitka left lasting impressions. It was a social shock but it probably taught me to be quite observant.

The Eskimo language was spoken In Wales. It was a highly developed way of communication. It was just right for dealing with everyday activities. It made fairly complex organization possible such as development of teamwork for successful whale hunting. Today, the aboriginal language and the culture are rapidly losing to a form of situation, which is not terribly desirable. The situation leads to feeling of discontent or lethargic attitudes. People neither speak good Eskimo language nor good English. For some, the extent of communication is yes or no or no words at all. The communication very often is confined and reduced to members of the family or buddies in an offbeat section of a town. There would be little or no way to effectively communicate regionally, nationally or internationally if there were no learned individuals or representatives of outside interests. Some of us broke the tradition of hunting as a way of life and left the villages in order to get higher education.

As a person who has experienced two cultures, I am not very different from others. I am somewhat bicultural, that is, I do know and appreciate Eskimo way of life. At the same time, I am able to live in an urban community. If there were no choice and if there were no opportunities, I would probably feel very much at home in a village. Yet, I am not practicing the Eskimo way of life. To do so, I think would be an attempt to stop time. Even though hunting rights are valid, the Eskimo way of life, I feel, must not be preserved for the sake of tourists and the industry that relates to tourists. On the other hand, one can't really divorce or remove oneself from his identity. There are certain values that happen to be valid and they are valid even for non-natives."

Credit for parts of the above information is given to Kes Woodward, author of Painting in the North: Alaskan Art in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. .


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