Skultka Jr., of Sitka, left, is awarded the Margaret Nick
Cooke Award for Alaska Native Arts and Languages by Gov. Bill
Walker during the 2018 Governor's Arts and Humanities Awards
at the Juneau Arts and Caulture Center on Thursday Feb. 8,
Charlie Skultka Jr. of Sitka recently received a surprise call
from the Governor's office: he'd been selected to receive a 2018
Governor's Arts and Humanities Awards' Margaret Nick Cooke Award
for Alaska Native Arts and Languages.
Skultka Jr. (photo by Tane Skultka)
The award goes to an individual who has furthered education
in traditional Alaska Native arts and languages. As a Haida man,
for many years Skultka has been teaching arts and culture classes
as a traditional arts specialist for the Sitka Native Education
Program, which partners with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sitka
School District to bring Alaska Native art into schools. He also
works to integrate Alaska Native arts and culture into schools with
other teachers through Sitka's Arts, Culture and Technology program.
students paint skateboards for art class. (photo by Tane Skultka)
He had been contemplating this being his last year before he
retired, but said he'll likely teach longer before retiring and
then make guest visits to classrooms afterwards.
"It seems like every time I plan for retirement either a kid
reminds me why I teach or I get an award," he said.
In 2016, the Alaska Arts Education Consortium recognized Skultka
with the Champion of the Arts award.
Skultka teaches a variety of mediums, from painting, weaving
and carving to graphic design, 3D printing, and halibut hook making,
all with an Alaska Native arts aspect to them. He's worked in a
variety of mediums over the years: cedar and spruce root weaving;
Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving; carving with ivory, wood argillite,
steel, aluminum, copper, gold, silver and titanium; printing; working
with clay; making silk screens; painting; and drawing with pen,
graphite, and charcoal.
"All the training I've done my entire life just through jobs
and actually going to school has all snowballed and rolled down
the hill and it's like I ended up where I'm supposed to be. I've
got such a unique set of job skills that it was a perfect match
for me to work in the schools," Skultka said.
Skultka grew up in Sitka, learning traditional art and culture
from an early age. He remembers beading with his grandmother or
working on Native style arts and crafts in the Head Start school
readiness program. Many things, like carving a paddle, were skills
he learned since they were practical and useful, and if he wanted
it to look "cool" he decorated the paddle in Northwest Coast designs.
He never considered these activities art when he was young, just
something that he did.
work on art projects during one of Charlie Skultka Jr. classes.
(photo by Tane Skultka)
"For the longest time I took for granted that everyone knew
how to do that kind of stuff. As I got older I started noticing
a lot of the kids around me were actually being sent to the culture
classes to learn this stuff, but I grew up doing it," he said.
Growing up around commercial fishing, he developed an interest
in boatbuilding. He travelled south as an adult to learn metallurgy,
naval architecture and other skills, and eventually returned to
Sitka. He took on many different roles over 20 years in the industry,
eventually leaving it after an accident. He began volunteering and
then was offered a job as a demonstrating artist at the Southeast
Alaska Indian Cultural Center at the Sitka National Historic Park.
There were three different studios, one for fiber, wood, and metal
working. He worked in the metal studio as a carver, showing tourists
and others how these traditional art forms were done. He also worked
with master carver Reggie Peterson, learning more about wood carving.
As he worked in the metal shop, one of the most common questions
people asked was what the difference was between Tlingit and Haida
"To the disappointment of most of the people asking is that
the only difference I've found over the years between Tlingit and
Haida art is Tlingit produce Tlingit art and Haidas produce Haida
art. Other than that it's art," he said. All he had to do was make
the art, and it would be Haida art, he said.
Years later, he was offered the position with the Sitka School
District. While he teaches traditional art forms and cultural knowledge
he encourages students to get creative and know that their art does
not have to look a specific way to be Alaska Native art.
Skultka Jr. teaches a class. (photo by Tane Skultka)
"If all of our artwork looked alike it would become very generic
and eventually stagnate and it wouldn't be art at all. It would
all be the same. So when I get the chance I let kids explore using
different colors other than the three traditional primary colors
than we used because I know for fact had my ancestors had these
bright, vibrant colors they would have used them.
Native art is art that is produced by Natives," he said. "Art should
be fun and it should be new and it should be fresh. Why does it
have to be the same old stuff? I've got nothing wrong with the same
old stuff but in order for our art to move forward it's got to change."
He's shown first graders how to make and play their own drums,
and then use those drums to reinforce other skills like how to count,
understand syllables in words, and learn Alaska Native songs. He's
shown middle schoolers how to design and build bentwood boxes and
make deer calls. He's shown high school students the basics of formline
Having the cultural component along with the art is important.
"It's not so much the art as it is teaching the culture to our
kids, showing it to them. It's not something that happens anymore.
When I was kid, all the families would get together and we'd all
go fishing together, we'd all go process our fish, we'd go picking
seaweed," he said.
The art he teaches also encompasses many other subjects and
skills, and has real world applications. There's crossover in weaving
to what he used to do as a seiner tying knots, he gave as an example.
Art forms like weaving can also illustrate and reinforce other subjects
students learn, like math, he said.
show off bracelets made during art class. (photo by Tane Skultka)
Art is extremely important for students, Skultka said, but it's
usually one of the first subjects slashed when budgets grow tight.
He's gotten creative to help fund art programs in Sitka. Recently
Skultka redesigned the Baranof Elementary School logo, making a
Northwest Coast Art styled bear named Buddy. He shrunk the line
drawing down and used a laser engraver to make copies so students
could make two, one to keep and another to sell as a Christmas ornament
to fundraise for school. They ended up making $2,000, which averages
out to about $10 per child, he said.
Currently he's thinking up other ways to keep the arts funded
and thriving for Sitka students. Within the next month, he will
be coming to Juneau to work with the University of Alaska Southeast
on their new Northwest Coast Art degree, focusing on developing
the dual enrollment component for high school students taking college
This week he will also be coming to Juneau to accept his award.
The awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, Feb. 8, at the
Juneau Arts & Culture Center. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
and the ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be
purchased online at: akgovawards.org/attend.
Skultka gives credit to his wife Tane Skultka, colleagues and
many other people for working and supporting him all these years.
"I've got some brilliant teachers I work with who are amazing.
Bringing their ideas to life is as exciting as bringing mine.
It's all about the kids, really, and giving them the opportunity
to make good choices and steering them in that direction."