Skagway children and adults alike got to experience some of the unique culture of native Alaska firsthand.
The Skagway Traditional Council invited Abel Ryan to town to teach students how to create their very own Tlingit drum with a North Coast indigenous Formline design.
Ryan, a practitioner of Formline design, taught classes from Jan. 21 through 26 to over 85 students, both young and old in Skagway.
Third graders through high school students got the chance to learn from Ryan and to create their own Formline drum as part of their school day. Adults who wanted the chance to make their own drum were able to do so in evening classes.
Ryan has been a full-time artist for twenty years and began practicing Formline when he was 11 years old, in Metlakatla, under the tutelage of Jack Hudson.
Formline, a style of indigenous art found mainly in the northeast region of America and Canada, relies on the use of stark coloring and shapes to create figures meaningful to tribal history.
“Formline is a form of art that developed over many millennia,” Ryan said.
The use of the shapes, like ovoids, is important to the design because they occur naturally in the world.
“When I’m teaching class, I like to show that when you give a thumbs up, if you look at your thumbnail there’s an ovoid,” Ryan said.
The meaning behind Formline was a way for people to communicate with themselves and their ancestors, Ryan said.
“The closest example I can come up with in world history, is Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Our art form isn’t a written language but is a cue for a story” Ryan said.
Beyond the appreciation for the process and the history behind making the drum and the art that goes with it, Ryan said it was great that it gave people a chance to learn with something that they could take away with them in the form of the drum.
“Whether or not they make another drum after this isn’t important. (The students) have an appreciation for the process for making one and a greater understanding of Formline design,” Ryan said.
The Skagway Traditional Council is looking to further the education in the coming months, for both students and adults, with additional classes coming up to be held on cooking and tincture making.