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Amos Wallace collection donated to Walter Soboleff Center

Collection includes hundreds of formline drawings made by master carver

Posted: July 12, 2012 - 12:01am
Amos Wallace holds a thunderbird carving he carved in January 2001.  It was the last piece of artwork he made. His health declined rapidly after this photo was taken.    Photo by Brian Wallace
Photo by Brian Wallace
Amos Wallace holds a thunderbird carving he carved in January 2001. It was the last piece of artwork he made. His health declined rapidly after this photo was taken.

The son of the late master carver Amos Wallace has donated his father’s collection of drawings and historical photographs and papers to Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The collection, donated by Brian Wallace, is a treasure trove of original drawings made by the famous artist as he was designing totem poles and other carvings destined for museums, universities and private collections. Brian Wallace donated it to the institute because he wanted it to be archived and shared at SHI’s Walter Soboleff Center, scheduled to break ground next year.

“It’s really exciting to me that the Walter Soboleff Center is going to be built soon and my dad’s archive is going to be in there—in the center that was named after one of his best friends,” Wallace said. “It is a very, very profound, meaningful thing for me and the rest of the family that his artwork will be preserved there and be shared.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said she was deeply moved by the donation and the generosity of Brian Wallace.

“Well it’s extraordinary—an extraordinary gift on the part of Brian Wallace. I’m just so pleased about receiving this collection,” said Worl, adding the institute will be able to use the collection to teach Tlingit designs to aspiring artists.

“We always hear master artists telling younger artists that they should study older pieces, and in this case we have the actual drawings of an artist. And, I know that our art department is going to be using it in its teaching of Northwest Coast art formline,” she said.

Amos Wallace was one of a few Native artists making Tlingit art in the mid-20th century, said Brian Wallace, noting his father is given a lot of credit for helping to keep the art form alive.

The collection includes hundreds of sketches of crests, totem poles, plaques, and jewelry designs. Some are completed drawings while others are “snippets of ideas,” Brian Wallace said. It also includes photographs of Amos Wallace and his work and papers he collected during a lifetime of fighting for Native civil rights through the Alaska Native Brotherhood, where he served three times as Grand President.

Amos was born to Anna and Frank Thomas in Hoonah in 1920. His Tlingit name was Jeet Yaaw Dustaa. He was a Raven from the T’akdeintaan Clan, Sockeye House of Glacier Bay and Hoonah by way of Lituya Bay. He had an older brother, Lincoln, who taught him to carve when Amos was 7. Amos went to boarding school at the Wrangell Institute, where he studied and carved with Horace Marks. He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and fought in World War II. After the war, he returned to Juneau and began making small totem poles with his brother. They traveled to Seattle, where they spent a year carving, then to Portland, Ore., where they carved for eleven years for a wholesaler.

In 1958, Amos was commissioned to build a 14-foot totem pole for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and that summer, he was invited onto “The Tonight Show” and interviewed by host Jack Paar.

“Dad joked that he was the very first Tlingit tv star,” Brian Wallace said.

He went on to make many more carvings, including totem poles for Disneyland, the state of Oregon, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Pioneer Park (formerly Alaskaland Park) in Fairbanks and museums in Cincinnati, Toronto and Boston. His work also is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C..

Amos Wallace died in 2004 at the age of 83.

SHI has produced a video of an interview with Brian Wallace about his father, his work, and his donation to SHI and posted it online (visit www.sealaskaheritage.org/news/index.html).

• Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

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