Formline design workshops scheduled in Juneau, other SE communities

Sealaska Heritage Institute has organized a series of formline design workshops in Juneau and nine other Southeast communities in an effort to bring a revitalized focus to formline, the basis of Northwest Coast art.


Juneau will host the first workshop this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 12 and 13, at the University of Alaska Southeast. It will be led by Lance Twitchell and will run from 12-5 p.m. both days. Registration is required and space is limited.

Formline refers to the complex designs, such as ovoids and split Us, that are the underlying components of Northwest Coast art.

SHI Arts Director Rico Worl said the workshop is open to artists from all media, as well as teachers and others with an interest in the design form. Participants can expect a very hands-on workshop with lots of drawing.

“It will be a pretty active class, more of a workshop than a lecture,” Worl said.

However, art experience is not required.

“The workshops are really designed to be open to as much of the community as possible to try and get a new focus brought to formline,” Worl said.

The formline workshops are part of SHI’s Jinéit Art Academy, established through a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. The Jinéit Art Academy is a three-year program designed to ensure that younger artists are learning formline, and to increase the number of Native artists and art instructors qualified to teach Northwest Coast art in public schools.

This weekend’s workshop will mostly focus on practical applications of the design, but also cover why it’s important to develop formline technique at a high level of integrity, Worl said.

Formline workshops will also be offered in Yakutat, Haines, Hydaburg, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Craig, Hoonah and Angoon through May. Instructors in addition to Twitchell are Gordon Greenwald, Ronnie Fairbanks and Nathan Jackson.

Participation is free, and Sealaska shareholders will be given a preference if the workshop becomes full.

To register for the Juneau workshop, contact Shaadoo’tlaa at, or 586.9129.

The final workshop schedule will be posted online at

Worl said another resource for those curious about formline design but unable to take the workshop is Bill Holm’s classic book, “Northwest Coast Indian Art.”

“If there is one book I would recommend, it would be ‘Northwest Coast Indian Art.’ It’s really a great place to start.”

Later this spring, SHI is also planning to release a booklet that covers a basic interpretation of formline.

“People will be able to look at a design and have the tools to look at the key features in that design and say, ‘oh that’s an eagle, or a raven, or a wolf, or whatever,” Worl said. “I’m hoping by the end of the spring, late spring, we will be putting it out.”

The last phase of the Jinéit Art Academy project will help artists and K-12 teachers develop and evaluate Northwest Coast art kits that may be used as a curriculum in schools.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding.


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