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John Hoover - Aleut Artist


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John Hoover - Aleut Artist

  1. 1. Presented by Jill Hayes ART-HIST-5561 Traditional and Contemporary Native American Art Spring 2012 Term 4/24/2012 Email: jhgg4@mail.umkc.eduArt Pictured:White Heron with Chain of SoulsCedar,| 47" h x 18" w x 10" dPhoto Source: Stoneington Gallery,
  2. 2. John Hoover was drawn to the traditions and ceremonies of the Aleutpeople due to the denial of his own native culture during his early formativeyears as a child. As an artist he has sought out his cultural identity and spent alifetime actively interpreting the Shaman stories from written and oral sourcesabout the people of the Northwest Coast and representing these stories in hisart. In this presentation, it is my intention to emphasize the influence of manydiverse Northwestern Pacific cultures and the shaman practices in Hoover’s art.“The stories Hoover draws upon in creating his artwork have been passed downfrom generation to generation, over many centuries, and play a major role inthe continuation of the culture. Hoover did not have elders to tell him thesestories, so he discovered them through books. Pan-Indian art is a term used todescribe the art created by Native Americans that addresses Native themes, butthat does not draw upon the traditions of any one particular tribe.”(Julie Decker, John Hoover: Art and Life, 11).
  3. 3. PRESENTATION I: •Artist Introduction •Preview of Sculptures •Native Indian Cultural Background PRESENTATION II: •Artist Bio •Sculptural Process FINAL PRESENTATION : •Shamanism •Spiritual in Hoover’s SculpturesPhoto Source:
  4. 4. John Hoover was born in 1919 in Cordova, Alaska. John recently passed away in September 2011 at the age of 91. His mother was Aleut and his father was Dutch. His mother was placed in a Russian missionary orphanage and soon after was given to a Russian family and worked for them until she fled at the age of 18. Russian settlers were common throughout the Northwestern Region of the American Coastline and numerous Orthodox churches and missionaries were established. (Citation Source: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Source, Anchorage Daily News-
  5. 5. ALEUTAN ISLANDS: •The Aleutian Islands are a chain of more than 300 small volcanic islands, forming what is called the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean. •Because of the location of the islands, stretching in a bridge like manner from Asia to America, many anthropologists believe the islands served as a route of the first human occupants to the Americas. (Ames, 57-64) ALEUT CULTURE: •The native people refer to themselves as Unangan, but they are most commonly known as Aleut by non-natives, which is the Russian name given to the people. Not to be confused with the Inuit, but they are genetically related to the Inuit and share some cultural similarities. •The Aleut language is one of the two main branches of the Inuit language, which is called Inuktituk. (Ray, 11-68)Illustration Source: Google Maps
  6. 6. • John Hoover was born in Cordova, Alaska and during his childhood, he was assimilated into the Anglo, white culture by his mother and he attended public schools, instead of a Bureau of Indian Affairs School. • Life was challenging as a Native Aleut Indian in Alaska. Cordova was a boomtown by the turn of the 20th century with a mix of cultures, yet native Indians were often mistreated and discriminated against. • Native Indians were not treated well by the Russians , Europeans, and other white people living in the region. Education was rare and good jobs were hard to come by for Native American Indians. (Decker, 11-21)Photo Source:,sampson/Timeline
  7. 7. •John had many diverse jobs before becoming anartist: boxer, drummer, pile driver, shipwright(carpenter), machinist’s helper, skippered a 138foot freight and passenger ship in the Army anda ski instructor.•He also owned his own power barge called theRed Head and fished and hauled with it for 3years.•The constant throughout John’s life was that hewas always a fisherman and an artist(Decker, 17-21)2000 Census Poster, Raven the Creator sculpturePhoto Source:
  8. 8. PERSONAL LIFE & FAMILY •Married Barbara McAllister in 1946 and they had five children together: Mark born in 1949, Martha born in 1950, Tony born in 1951, Grace Ann born in 1955, and Jane born 1964. •Hoover divorced Barbara in 1977 and married Mary Rockness in 1978 and they had a 6th child, Anna-born in 1985 when he was at the age of 66. •In 1999, at the age of eighty, John had triple bypass surgery and took many months to recover and did not work during this brief period. (Decker, 49,59 and 61)Photo Source:,sampson/Timeline
  9. 9. •John began seriously painting in 1950 in oil and Moved to Edmonds, Washington where he became a Member of the Seattle Co-Arts and he shared a co-op Gallery in Bellevue with 35 other artists. •He also attended the Leon Derbyshire School of Fine Art in Seattle from 1957-1960 and trained under Derbyshire himself. John states that he learned technique and style from his teacher. •He painted throughout the1950’s and and turned to carving wood in 1960. •During his time the artist and his family lived in Edmonds in the winter months and lived on a boat in Cordova, Alaska during the spring and summer months. He and his wife worked as commercial fishermen during the summer so that John could spend the winter devoted to his art. (Decker, 25- 28).Heron Soul Catcher, 2000, 51” h x 21” , Cedar, Photo Source: Anchorage Museum Website,
  10. 10. •John’s first carvings were inspired by the Aleut spirit boards, which are hinged decorated panels featuring an image representing a family, clan, lineage, family crest, or a an important figure in the clan. Spirit boards were used during ceremonial performances. •His early work was oil painted designs on cedar planks and his figures represented spirits with simplified bodies with elongatedRaven Spirit, 31” h x 21”l, 1970, Cedar, Photo arms and hands.Source: Anchorage Museum Website, •He used a minimal white wash toartandlife.aspx color the bodies of his figures. (Decker, 27)
  11. 11. The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona Selected twelve contemporary Indian artists to show their work in the sculpture garden of the White House and John Hoover was one of these artists. His sculpture, Seaweed People, was originally created in 1982, but was recast in bronze in 1997 for the Kennedy Garden Installation in 1998. The sculpture is a visualization of the spirit helpers who assist the Aleut people. John’s sculpture is not taken from ancient tradition of images but rather his interpretation of these spirit helpers from interpreting what he reads about shamanism and he creates his designs not from traditional symbols but from his own imagination . He states, “the Natives gathered seaweed and made everything with it. . .this images represents bull kelp swaying and dancing with the currents .” (Decker, 57.)Photo Source:
  12. 12. •As John continued to sculpt over the next10-15 years his style developed and hisimages are dominated by ravens, herons,loons, sea otters, and spirit figures in humanand animal form.•After his 1973 exhibition at the HeardMuseum in Phoenix, Hoover received longoverdue recognition for his art and beganexhibiting more. By the early 1980’s hebegan receiving larger commissions for publicworks projects and he started casting hislarge sculptures in metal, at first using hiscedar wood carvings for the molds and laterusing carved foam molds.( Decker, 43)Raven the Creator, 14 ½ feet high x 5 ½ feet wide, 1998, Bronze CastSculpture in front of the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage,AK, Photo Source:
  13. 13. •Transformation is a recurrent theme in Northwest Coast and Inuit oral traditions that is creatively adopted by Hoover. • Hoover’s sculpture is a blend of shamanism, sea birds, and animals that act as a contemporary interpretation of the cultural myths from his heritage. •“Hoover’s artworks are about the transformation of humans into animal and animal into people, as spirits move from one world into another.” (Decker, 12) •Hoover states that the, “shamans were healers, artists and sometimes chiefs…shamans had the ability to transform into the shape of their spirit helpers, which are often animals.”Bird Woman Mobile, Cedar, Pigments (Vigil, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Source: Stonington
  14. 14. •According to Andreas Lommell, the director of the National Museum of Ethnology inMunich in 1967, in his book Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art (a major source forHoover) :•Among natives of the Pacific Northwest it is widely believed that the role and title of , “‘shaman’ and ‘medicine man’ mean very largely the same, perform the same functionsand employ the same psychological technique.” (Lommell, 9)•The Shaman has the gift of suggestion and hypnosis and the power to influence hisfellow tribesmen. Although the shaman often employ the same skills as the medicineman, he will always perform the functions of a spiritual guide and healer in a completestate of trance, whereas the medicine man is lucid . The shaman experiences a state ofpsychological intensity which he believes includes: telepathic phenomena, clairvoyance,mysterious disappearance and reappearance, conjurations of the spirits, and dreamjourneys. (Lommell, 9-10)
  15. 15. Images Source: Unangan/Aleut Website, Unangan/Aleut Culture,
  16. 16. “ *Contemporary Native American artists] might be said to resemble a ‘school’ of art, rather than a tribe. Not surprisingly their work often addresses many of the social and political problems facing Aboriginal peoples today . What may be surprising, however, is the wry and ironic humorThat’s What You Get for that permeates much ofPuffin Around, Red their art.”Cedar, Pigments | 37.5" hx 12.5" w x .5" d (Allan J. Ryan, The Trickster Shift,Image Source: 1999 , xi)
  17. 17. “Birds have long been revered by tribal cultures as holy envoys that carry prayers and supplications to the sky spirits and return with blessings of power and guidance to enrich the Indians’ earthly existence.” (Thomas H. Flaherty, The Spirit World, 1992.) Birds of every kind appear in Hoover’s work: swans, loons, puffins, owls, cranes, Grebe, and Blue Jay’s, the bird he most associates with himself. Hoover states, “ Birds were, and still are, very important to me with their ability to transform into spirit helpers.” (Decker, 30)Aleut Totem, Cedar, Pigments , 66" h x 24" w x 1" dImage Source:
  18. 18. Blue Jay Man is a self portrait triptych that was inspired by his childhood memories of portable, Russian Orthodox icons that traveling priests brought to the his Alaskan hometown. Drawing from his own personal story, John created his version of the spiritual artifact. The blue jay is in reference to his name and is one of the “inua” or animal spirit energies connected to woodcarving. He combines hisBlue Jan Man, Self-Portrait, Original facial features and his signatureWood Carving: Cedar, 14 x 12”, 1995. necklace for his iconic self-portrait. (Citation and photo from Two Ravens StudioTwo Ravens Studio was commissioned Website, Hoover to mold, cast and patina jay-man/)these cedar art forms for the artist andhis family.
  19. 19. “The shaman has specially strong vision; he can see in all directions. This power ofvision, the ‘fire of the eyes’, extends over great distances . . . Every shaman must have ananimal mother or an animal of origin. It is perhaps best pictured as the fiery power ofthe shamanistic sight, which hastens about the earth. It is the embodiment of theshaman’s prophetic gift, his power of sight which penetrates into past and future. “ (Lommel, Andreas, Shamanism; The Beginnings of Art, 1967, pg. 62.) The Wolf Dancers sculpture may be Hoover’s visual interpretation of a ceremonial séance or dance where the Shaman wears an animal disguise, as this plays a significant role, “as to depict and absorb into himself (the shaman) the helping spirits that are imagined in animal shape.” ( Lommell, 107)Wolf Dancers, Cedar, Pigments , 32.5" h x 50.5" w x5" d, Image Source:
  20. 20. The human form is an integral part of each of Hoover’s compositions and is present in almost every piece. The faces are all similar and hold the same serene expression. The are inspired by “Madonna” figurines of the Okvik period, dating to two thousand years ago. They represent the spirit called Inua, (interpreted as “owner” or “indweller”) which the shamans communicated with and is present in all objects including rocks, the wind, and animals. In humans, it is the soul. (Decker, 28-29)Wolf Dancers, Cedar, Pigments , 32.5" h x 50.5" w x5" d, Image Source:
  21. 21. Night of the First Americans, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. Shared Visions, World Traveling Native American Artists Show, Heard Museum *Twentieth Century American Sculpture at The White House: Honoring Native America, Washington, D.C. -1998 Alaska State Museum, Juneau, Alaska Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska Edinburgh Arts Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona Horniman Museum, London, England Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico International Olympics, Mexico City, Mexico L.A. County Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles, California Museo de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma Seattle Art Museum, Washington Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. *At the Stonington Gallery in Seattle, Washington John’s sculptures and bronze casts currently sell for $4,000 to $10,000.Exhibition Information Source :
  22. 22. John’s lifetime of work is still honored today through the many works made available to the people of Alaska through the public artworks in Anchorage and his continued art sales at Stonington Gallery in Seattle, Washington.Photo Source:
  23. 23. WEBSITE: Anna Hoover received a fall quarter fellowship in 2009, for her master’s degree project at Princeton University. This is a photo of Anna with her mixed media piece, Skin of the Earth that exhibited in the Dry Ice: Alaska Native Artists and the Landscape at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts at Princeton. This project was an environmental awareness focused exhibition. (Bill Holm Website)Skin of the Earth 2009, exhibited in Dry Ice: Alaska Native Artists and the Landscape, at the PaulRobeson Center for the Arts, Princeton University. Photo Source: Bill Holm Center Website,
  24. 24. Slide 2-Julie Decker, John Hoover: Art and Life (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, 11. Hoover did not learn to carve andabout his culture from his relatives in the traditional way that Native American Artists are taught.2000), 11. Decker points out Hoover’s source and cultural interpretations in his work.Slide 3-Vigil, Jennifer C., “John Hoover,” Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Vigil summarizes the moreextensive biography of John Hoover written about by the author Julie Decker in her bookabout the artist.Slide 4-Vigil. The reoccurring themes in Hoover’s art are discussed by Vigil in her briefonline article.Slide 5-Kenneth Ames and Herbert Maschner, Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory (New York: Thamesand Hudson, Ltd, 1999),57-64. Ames & Maschner provide a theory of the earliest migration of primitive peoples. Dorothy J. Ray, Aleutand Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in South Alaska, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981, 11-16. Ray provides ahistorical background of the Aleut culture, the customs, and the language.Slide 6- Decker, 11-21. Decker details Hoover’s childhood and the hardships he faced in Cordova growing up as a Native AmericanIndian.Slide 7-Decker, 17-21. Hoover’s later teenage years and early adult life is described as turbulent with many various jobs. Hoover wastrying to find himself, as a young man, yet he painted early in his life and had the intention to pursue art.Slide 8- Decker, 49,59 and 61. Decker provides information about Hoover’s family, children, and his health issues.Slide 9-Decker,25-28. Hoover had some formal training as an artist and also worked in a collective group of artists early in his career forhis painting skills, however he taught himself to carve wood.Slide 10-Decker,27. Hoover shifted from painting to carving wood and this became his predominate medium after the 1960’s. Deckerdetails his early carvings and his process.Slide 11- Decker, 57. Hoover’s career as an artist is recognized with the selection of his sculpture for the White House Garden Exhibit.Slide 12- Decker, 43. Hoover transitions from wood carving to casting some of his designs in bronze for larger pieces for public projects.Slide 13-Decker, 12. Hoover explains that he had to learn about his culture on his own and sought out text sources and became fascinatedwith the Shaman aspect of all cultures of the Northwestern Pacific. Vigil. Hoover is quoted from his biography from the StoningtonGallery for symbols of shamanism in his work.Slide 14-Andreas Lommel, Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.,1967), 9-10. Lommel details thetraditions and belief system of the shaman. This book was a major resource for Hoover for interpreting these shaman practices, symbols,and stories in his work from the 1970’s to the 1980’s.
  25. 25. Slide 16- Allan J. Ryan, The Trickster Shift, (Seattle: Washington University Press, 1999 ), xi. Ryan isreferencing the group of Canadian Native artists: Carl Beam, Bob Boyer, Domingo Cisneros andEdward Poitras among others, in his book with this statement, however it applies to a broader spectrumof contemporary native artists and is evident in Hoover’s art.Slide 17- Thomas H. Flaherty, The Spirit World, (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1992),77. Decker, 30.Slide 18- Katrina Toft, “Blue Jay Man” from Two Ravens Studio Website, 2010 19-Lommell, 62, 107. Lommell describes the helping spirits in the shape of animals and howshamanism is adapted by Native Indians in their art.Slide 20-Decker, 28-29. Decker explains the symbolism of the abstracted faces that appear inHoover’s art.Slide 21- Quintana Gallery Website , “John Hoover, Aleut -Exhibitions” , Quintana Gallery provides anextensive list of Hoover’s exhibitions and additional exhibitions were listed from Julie Decker’s essay.Slide 23- Bill Holm Center Website, “Past Bill Holm Center Graduate Fellowship Recipients”, 2009
  26. 26. 1. Flaherty, Thomas H. The American Indians: The Spirit World. Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1992.2. Ames, Kenneth and Maschner, Herbert. Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory . New York: Thames and Hudson, Ltd, 1999.3. Author Unknown. Artists Bio, “John Hoover Bio” , Stonington Gallery, Author Unknown, Bill Holm Center Website, “Past Bill Holm Center Graduate Fellowship Recipients” , 2009, Decker, Julie, John Hoover: Art and Life. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.6. Flaherty, Thomas H., The Spirit World. Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1992.7. Joseph, Robert, ed. Listening to Our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life Along the North Pacific Coast. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2005.8. Lommel, Andreas. Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967.9. Ray, Dorothy Jean, Aleut and Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in South Alaska. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.10. Shearar, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings, and Symbols. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.11. Toft, Katrina.“Blue Jay Man” from Two Ravens Studio Website, 2010, Vigil, Jennifer, “John Hoover”, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, project/artists/john-hoover/