Alaska Native elders and renowned artists, Joe and Martha Senungetuk, have been named the inaugural Elder Artists-in-Residence for the heARTS Healing Center and Studio at Alaska Pacific University.
From November until June, the couple will use the art room in Atwood Center as their studio and mentoring space for any student, staff, or faculty member interested in learning more about Alaska Native culture and the “healing power” of art and creativity.
“This opportunity is such a blessing,” Martha said. “People can express themselves through art in so many different ways. Here, they’ll be able to learn about creative processes they might not be familiar with. It seems like the perfect opportunity for all people to come together and create a space on campus where things like fine art, traditional values, communication, and history are valued.”
While the classes they’ll teach are still being developed, Martha said one of the first lessons she’d like to do will focus on paintings that portray various emotions. Joe, on the other hand, is still trying to decide which of his many mediums of interest – found object sculptures, woodworking, stone carving, print making, drawing, writing – he’d like to delve into first in his new role.
Joe, born in Wales, Alaska in 1940 and Martha, born in Cordova in 1950, have known each other since the late 1970s. She’d just moved to Sitka to take classes at Sheldon Jackson College where Joe was the art teacher. For the next three decades, they were simply friends who would occasionally meet up at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference or other events. It wasn’t until 2011 that they wed and subsequently married their art forms.
“We’re able to do more collaboration pieces and shows,” Martha explained. “He’ll draw and I’ll paint or he’ll carve and I’ll paint.”
The duo just finished an art show at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art where they collaborated on various pieces, including a mask that Joe crafted from wood and Martha painted.
Martha said that nurturing of each other’s talents is something they learned at a visual arts center that the duo was a part of in the late 70s and early 80s. She hopes to share that with the APU community in their studio space.
“It was all about working with each other and encouraging each other to produce what was in their heart to produce,” Martha said. “That’s what we want to do here, too. Create a space to teach and encourage each other.”