Painter Andrew Morrison will be on campus for the next week completing a mural that he says will “visually tie the APU and ANTHC together.”
The painting will feature the likeliness of various Alaska Native tribal groups.
“I’m not going to paint any one specific person from each group, because the conversation about who it should be could go on forever,” Morrison explained.
Instead, Morrison said, he’d essentially make a face using references from the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center so that’ll be obvious which tribal group the portrait is depicting. He’ll also add regalia or symbolism unique to that group – double fin killer whales for the Haida people, musk ox for Inupiat.
“I want to represent these different parts of Alaska in intriguing but authentic ways,” Morrison said. “I want it to feel sincere.”
On the onset of painting, Morrison had only a rough idea of what he’s going to paint.
“I’ll sketch maybe 70 percent of it beforehand, but I always tell people that when I go to paint, the sketch becomes secondary and the mural takes on a life of its own,” Morrison said. “I have to stay true to the energy and see where it goes to do really great artwork. It’s a really natural process.”
In the days prior, Morrison collected samples and inspiration that could potentially be used in the piece – everything from Alaska Native dwellings to subsistence foods to regalia. He’ll essentially ad lib the piece, pulling in the elements that work best as he goes along.
Morrison, a Seattle-based muralist with Hydaburg ancestry, has a long history of painting murals with Native American themes.
Last summer, he painted a mural in Deering, Alaska that features a black-and-white portrait of a well-known reindeer herder, Flora Karmun, as an elder. In 2015, he did a similar 25-by-50 foot project in Ft. Belknap, Montana, painting the local tribal people. Both murals were done on water towers as part of the Water is Life Project.
Between 2001 and 2013 he painted eight murals at the Wilson Pacific school, a former Indian Heritage High School. The murals included well-known figures, such as Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull, as well as scenes like an 18-foot-tall Blackfeet boy in his tribal regalia and a depiction of the inside of a longhouse. Those murals were so beloved – the school also doubled as a venue for cultural events, like powwows — that when the school that were painted in was scheduled for demotion, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board fought to protect the murals. Eventually, it was decided that the murals would be preserved and built into two new schools.
Though his first Native American heritage mural was painted on the side of his parents’ house.
When his high school teacher assigned his class community service projects to round out their senior year, Morrison asked if he could craft a mural as his way to give back to his community.
Though he was already an avid artist, he’d never done murals before.
“I basically went to the library and found this old book with black-and-white photos of Native American people,” Morrison explained. “I picked 12 or 13 and painted them on the wall. That was almost 20 years ago and it still exists on the side on my family’s home in Seattle.”
Morrison said the mural on his family’s house has become such a landmark that during the height of the Pokemon Go craze last summer, someone registered the house as a stop.
“We had so many people walking by then,” Morrison said. “You could say it became an even bigger part of the neighborhood then.”
Morrison started his mural in Atwood Center on July 20. The goal is to have it done within seven days, so that it’s ready for the Denali Society Reception next week.
“I’m glad to be a part of this project,” Morrison said. “My family is Haida, which will be represented in this, so I have that added connection too it. This is all part of my roots.”