Earlier this summer I was invited by a very good friend of mine to come to see a showing of a very talented Tlingit (pronounced “cling-git”) Native American artist here in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The gallery where his art was to be shown was at ASYMBOL Gallery based here in Jackson. I was excited to see his work because of the style of art James does and truthfully James is one of the last of his people painting in their traditional ways. ASYMBOL is owned by Travis Rice, world famous extreme snowboarder and producer of many fine things. The passion Travis shares for art and those who create imagery for all to enjoy comes through with their support for James.
So my wife and I went with great anticipation and really not knowing much about his style of art, which is really the telling of stories. James was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska and he belongs to the Ch’aak Dakl’aweodi Clan (Eagle/Killerwhale). It was his late father from the Raven/Shark Clan that first encouraged him to pursue Tlingit carving and learn the traditional Tlingit formline.
James is named after his Grandfather, Chief Peter Johnson of Angoon and his Great Grandfather Jimmy Johnson of Angoon. James says his art honors his Tlingit heritage. From the very first moment I met James I just simply loved this guy as well as his artwork. Not only is it different from the Plains Indian influenced art that has been my passion I truly believe that his art comes in the form of simple elegance. The lines, the colors, the medium all come together to tell his stories.
James’s art is represented by several entities such as N-Grained, alongside Mark Landvik, ASYMBOL by Travis Rice and he is also an artist for Zohi Gallery in Santa Fe New Mexico. Zohi Gallery is 100% Native Owned and Operated representing 30 of the top native artists in the country. In addition James is supported by Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau. Sealaska supports the top Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Artists from Alaska working to preserve each tribe’s heritage and culture thru their respective art.
James takes very seriously the honor that has been bestowed upon him to carry on the traditions and cultures of his people. Although James tells me there is no word for “Art” in the Tlingit language you will beg to differ when you see his work. Traditional Tlingit formline is the foundation for James’s artwork and “Art Form” that was developed thousands of years ago by his ancestors. James’s current work is a healthy mix of both traditional and contemporary Tlingit styles of his own.
Recently I had the opportunity to share with James some lumber that I wanted to give to him. One of the species I work in almost daily was a piece of true old growth Alaskan Yellow Cedar. My favorite second is the amazing Port Orford Cedar and both make the most beautiful flute instruments. I provided James with one Alaskan Yellow Cedar and one Port Orford Cedar Board and within weeks he created two amazing works of art. The Dancing Eagle paddle shown here to the right was one of but two amazing works by James.
After meeting James and seeing how he turned a solid single board into this beautifully crafted paddle I knew I had to try to see if we could work together. So as I often do I reached out to James and asked him if he would have an interest in bringing some of his Tlingit Formlines to some of my flutes. James responded right away and the short version is we are going to craft two flutes that will be available for purchase soon. These two flutes will more than likely be the ONLY two of their kind when done. Both of these flutes are being crafted from old growth Alaskan Yellow Cedar and the image above is one of the flute bodies that will be the blank canvas for James to work his magic.
The above image is of one of the actual flute bodies we are crafting. We are just about to tune these flutes and once this is complete they will be shipped to James for him to create his Formline Art. In addition to his artwork James will also be carving the totem for each of these two flutes. Both flutes are 1″ inch bored flutes and will be probably in the low E range. Depending on the final product we will craft flute bags crafted from either Elk or Bison hides. We will be posting additional picture as we make progress.
For those of you who collect flutes this might be the time for you to extend yourselves and gain ownership in true works of art. This is functional art at its very best and I am excited to work with James on my very first Plains Indian Influenced flute and true traditional Tlingit Form Art. If you are interested in finding out more about these two in production flutes send us an email to “firstname.lastname@example.org”. There is no price point established as of this post but these will be gallery quality works of art. It has not yet been decided where these flutes will be available to be seen but more on that later.
I am excited to be working with James on this new project and I have high expectations to the finished product…