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 Othniel A. Oomittuk  (1964 - )

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Lived/Active: Oregon/Alaska      Known for: wood carver-masks

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sculptor Othniel A. Oomittuk, Jr is an Eskimo, born in Point Hope, Alaska, a village one hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. At the age of nine, he moved with his family even farther north to Barrow. As a boy, he watched his grandfather carve masks from whale bone.

Oomittuk began carving around 1997, when he was in his early thirties. He had graduated from Western Oregon University, intending to be an art teacher, but his appetite for creation was whetted by courses in printmaking, photography and ceramics. However, he did little with it. Living in Rainier, Oregon, he commuted one hundred miles a day to a graphic arts job in Portland.

It took a suggestion from an artist friend to push Oomittuk to enter the Indian Art Northwest Festival. He carved three masks, two in cedar, one in redwood in four months. His obvious talent gained him first prize, as it would again the following two years.

Oomittuk had a struggle with masks made from a redwood burl. He didn't have proper woodworking tools, just rasps and flat chisels, and the redwood tended to splinter. He still has ivory from a walrus he shot when in high school, and he carved a piece in the shape of a whale tail and inlaid it in the cheek. Other materials he uses include finely-sanded sugar pine, oak, myrtle, even woods from Indonesia. Eyes are made of baleen of whales, teeth of walrus ivory.

In an interesting and haunting synchronicity in his creative process, Oomittuk wanted to make faces that looked like his ancestors, but had no models other than himself. He was later told that his likenesses were nearly identical with those carved centuries ago in the area where he was born.

Working at his own pace and responsive to the nature of the wood"where it wants to take me," he says--the artist has been working for three years on an oak burl.

In addition to exhibiting at the Northwest Festival, Oomittuk has shown in an invitational exhibition at the Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona with seven other Native American artists, and at the Portland Art Museum. He is currently working on a public commission in Anchorage, his first bronze piece.

Adapted from "Southwest Art" magazine April 2003
By Dottie Indyke

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