of the first carvings Ron Manook created was a replica of a young
woman he had a crush on. Taught to whittle as a pastime when the
family went camping, he worked the miniature figure out of cottonwood.
But Manook, then 13, was too embarrassed
to give the less-than-perfect carving to the woman.
Today, three years after the popular West
Valley High School Native arts teacher's unexpected death, his sister
treasures the work.
"He never showed it to her,"
said Karen Rifredi, Manook's oldest sister. The childish piece serves
as a reminder of her beloved brother, who later went on to be nationally
recognized for his expressive--and perfect--carvings.
Manook was poised for further success
as an artist when he died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 44 in
1999. He had long been recognized as a talented teacher, winning
the Milken Award for Excellence and a $25,000 prize for teaching.
Now the public has an opportunity to own
Manook's art. On Thursday, the Doyon Foundation unveiled an aqua-hued
woolen blanket that features an image of a salmon and mask sculpture
by Manook. Part of the money collected in the sales of the blanket
will go toward a scholarship endowment fund to help Doyon Ltd. shareholders
and their descendants earn higher education degrees.
Manook planned to help design the Doyon
Foundation blanket before his death, said former foundation director
Miranda Wright. His family finished the work, she said. Wright oversaw
The blanket is the fourth in a series
called the "Spirit Keepers," representing "The Water
People" because water has been an important part of Athabascan
life, said Sharon Gillis, Doyon Foundation executive director. The
blanket, manufactured by Pendleton Woolen Mills, will sell for $290
for a regular blanket and $315 for a numbered edition. The blanket
is more expensive because it has more colors than the others, Gillis
A series of multi-colored circles on the
blanket represent salmon eggs. A border design represents trim that
Manook's mother, Agnes Ostlund, sewed onto Manook's favorite Alaska-style
Ostlund recalled how her son, affectionately
call "Buster," would set her to work on different projects
for him. She is a skilled seamstress and needlewoman. Once he asked
her to knit him long woolen socks that would go over his knees to
keep him warm while skiing, she said.
"I don't know how, I told him,'"
Ostlund said. "You could do anything, he said."
The socks took her three days to knit,
and when she finished she invited her son over for dinner and presented
"I knew you could do it," he
said, after trying the socks on. "Just a perfect fit."
Fellow artist and good friend Alvin Amason
remembered Manook's "goofiness" Thursday at the blanket's
unveiling in the lobby of Doyon Ltd. Manook could find a humor in
ravens and then recount the tales in an evening telephone call to
"He was someone you could enjoy the
day with," he said. Amason fondly remembered the times the
two would take trips to Kenai to subsistence fish and the long conversations
on the drives between the Southcentral Alaska peninsula and Fairbanks.
"What I would give," he said,
and the rest of the words caught in his throat.
Manook left a significant body of work,
said Jean Flanagan-Carlo, the Alaska Native art liaison with the
University of Alaska Fairbanks. The work has strong Athabascan influence,
she said, pointing to ears on one mask featured in a slide show
at the unveiling.
"Where else would you hang beautiful
beads from?" she said.
Hundreds of high school students passed
through Manook's classes at West Valley, and their work has clear
Manook influence, Flanagan-Carlo said.
The striking similarity astounds Rifredi,
Manook's sister. One student showed her a carving after Manook's
death. "I see my brother right in it," she said. "He
was a great mentor."
The other blankets in the "Spirit
Keepers" series represent unity and peace, people of the land
and people of the caribou. For more information about the blankets