SHI prepares for grand opening of Soboleff Center

Sealaska Heritage Institute will host the grand opening of the Walter Soboleff Building on Friday, May 15, in Juneau. A day of ceremonies and celebration is planned and all are welcome.


The ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. with a formal program of comments and recognitions from dignitaries and special guests. At 12:30 p.m., there will be a coming ashore and welcome ceremony at the Marine Park dock marking the arrival of North Tide Canoe Kwaan, followed by dance group performances. The canoe paddlers and dancers will then proceed to the Soboleff Center.

The formal opening begins at 2 p.m., and will include a ceremony thanking the spirit of the trees used in the building’s construction, the unveiling of the building’s three major art pieces, a handprint ceremony, naming of the clan house, and a ceremonial transfer of clan hats to an art exhibit. The exhibit, “Enter the World of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples,” opens at the center on Saturday, May 16.

In preparation for next week’s opening, two exterior panels by Haida artist Robert Davidson are currently being installed on the Seward Street side of the building, flanking the main entrance. The two 40-foot panels, which extend up to the roofline, are based on Davidson’s painting, “Greatest Echo,” which was sold at the Tinaa Art Auction, a fundraiser for the Soboleff building held Feb. 1 in Juneau. The abstract design incorporates elements of traditional formline, and is called “Greatest Echo” because “Dr. Soboleff echoed the past to bring it to the present,” according to information provided by SHI. Davidson was born in Hydaburg and grew up in Massett, Haida Gwaii, in British Columbia.

Davidson’s panels are one of three monumental artworks created for the building. Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley created a carved and painted clan house front for the interior entryway, which has been installed in the building but not yet revealed to the public. The carving, created with help from his son, David R. Boxley, tells the story of “The Man who Held up the Earth” and will incorporate four crests, Raven, Killerwhale, Eagle and Wolf. Boxley is from Metlakatla.

The third major art piece is an interior Tlingit clan house screen created by artist Preston Singletary of Seattle. He had three artist apprentices for the project, selected through SHI: Nicholas Galanin, Alison Bremner and Crystal Worl. In addition, apprentices Mary Goddard and David Roger Lang will help install the piece. Singletary’s piece will be the largest glass screen in the world, measuring 17 feet wide and 12 feet high at its peak and made of carved, amber-and-black glass. The clan house where Singletary’s screen will be installed will serve as the building’s main performance and ceremonial space.

In addition to these three major works, the Soboleff building features exterior glass awnings created by Steve Brown, and interior hand-adzed timbers created by Wayne Price.

The 30,000-square-foot building was designed by Juneau firm MRV Architects in conjunction with SHI and a panel of Native elders, and was built by Dawson Construction.

The Soboleff Center will serve as a Northwest Coast Native cultural center and hub for the region. The building, named in honor of Tlingit elder Dr. Walter A. Soboleff, who died in 2011, will combine elements of a heritage center, research and education facility, art gallery and visitors’ center.

The opening ceremony will be broadcast live on 360North and online. Attendees are encouraged to wear their regalia, and to bring their own chairs as seating will be limited.

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