By Laura Ditto
Part 3 in a series on APU’s involvement Indigenizing the G Street mural.
A new public art installation painted by the Seattle Mural Art company was just finished in Downtown Anchorage. The mural, located on 645 G Street, was designed to highlight the vibrant diversity of the community, replacing Bob Patterson’s “Anchorage History” mural that has occupied the space since 1997. But who is the artist behind the new, colorful design? The same person who created Juneau’s Elizabeth Peratrovich mural and many other public art pieces across the world: Crystal Worl.
From a young age, Worl was encouraged by her family to pursue her artistic talent with beadwork, sewing regalia, and painting drum designs. Worl also took classes on painting and figure drawing, and then went on to complete a degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, giving her an artistic skillset with both traditional and modern techniques. After university, Worl and her brother started the Trickster Company, which takes traditional native art and places it on contemporary objects like skateboards and athletic clothing.
Worl’s art features a lot of Tlingit formline design, which she practiced while apprenticing under Robert Davidson, who heavily impacted Worl’s understanding of the practice.
“A lot of philosophy around it [formline design] applies not just to the art, but how you carry yourself; your life,” Worl explained. She said that formline helps you visualize the future to understand when, what, and how you can get something done.
Worl also takes inspiration from artists like Allison Bremner and Jill Kaasteen who use vibrant colors and bring contemporary elements into their traditional craft. In melding together Indigenous and modern art, Worl enjoys trying new things and mixing styles and mediums together, which is a key component in the way she designed the G Street Mural. However, even with her Tlingit and Athabascan heritage, Worl wants her art to be seen as more than just native.
“I really try to encourage people not to categorize or put me into a category or define what my art is or who I am,” Worl said. “I also do lot of styles of artwork that’s not formline design, it’s not beadwork patterns, it’s just purely design and art.”
Regarding the G Street mural, Worl says that she wants “everyone to really feel excited, and proud, and remind people that this is Dena’Ina territory and it’s a beautiful culture. We’re all here coexisting, living this beautiful life, and we’re all in it together.”
For her design, Worl researched and worked to combine aspects from many different Alaskan cultures, including imagery and motifs that encapsulate varying Indigenous groups. The mural design includes salmon and berries, which are important for subsistence practices across the state. Animals like caribou, foxes, and beavers are also found in the mural, each one with a Yupik inua symbol, which represents the inner spirit of each being. These elements are all brought together with Worl’s expressive Tlingit formline style against a backdrop of scenery.
Beyond the different parts of the design, Worl wanted to show the history of the city unlike the way it was depicted before. The previous mural portrayed history in a very linear, date-based way, but the new mural aims to show Anchorage’s connection to the land and the stories of Indigenous Peoples who have always called Alaska their home.
In thinking about the future of her art, Worl explained that she doesn’t mind if her mural is painted over someday to make room for new art as the city develops. Worl wants Anchorage to be colorful and adaptive while embracing and loving the culture and diversity.
“I really hope I’m creating a platform and space for more Indigenous artists, or artists of color, or local artists to step up to the playing field and start creating art publicly,” Worl shared. “It’s a huge, massive, intimidating field that discourages a lot of locals from applying … I really hope to change that.”