Editor's note: Anchorage Museum of History and Art generously referred Resource Library Magazine to the author and copyright holder of the following catalogue essay. Anchorage Museum of History and Art will present John Hoover: Art and Life, a retrospective exhibition, May 12 through September 29, 2002. This biographical essay is reprinted with the permission of the author, Julie Decker, who may be reached at (907) 272-1489. If you have questions regarding the exhibition or the lavishly illustrated catalogue, please contact the Anchorage Museum of History and Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


John Hoover: Art and Life

by Julie Decker


New Materials

By the 1980s Hoover was using artist oil colors and mixing them with turpentine and linseed oil to add color to his artwork. The additives thin the paint out to a stainlike substance that Hoover then applies with a brush, later rubbing it in with a cloth until the grain shows through. Hoover feels it gives the work an old, patinaed look. Hoover's signature colors -- washes of orange, rust, wood tones, the blue-greens of the sea -- accent the natural tones of the red cedar.

In 1981 Hoover created a hanging sculpture -- his first mobile form since Sedna for the King County public commission -- called Octopus Chimes. This is a large work, with four layered cedar forms, shaped like horseshoes, each section smaller than the next so that they hang inside one another. These suggest eight tentacles, like those of an octopus, as the name of the piece suggests. The same sculpture was later cast in bronze.

Hoover was intrigued with the visual effect of casting his carved works in metal. He enjoyed seeing his sculptures recast into a new material, at first mostly casting pre-existing works in cedar. He appreciated the durability of the metal and was interested in the subtle changes bronze brought to his carved forms. While his first works in bronze were cast from his cedar carvings, he now makes the molds from foam because the original cedar works rarely survived the casting process.

A sculpture called Seaweed People was the first work to be cast. Hoover's friend and collector Dave Kalamar saw a small four-foot version of Seaweed People carved in cedar one day in 1982 when he was visiting Hoover's studio. Kalamar inquired whether Hoover had ever considered casting his work in bronze. When Hoover said no, Kalamar pointed at Seaweed People and said, "Make that twice as big and cast it in bronze and I'll buy it." Hoover carved a larger form in cedar and had the sculpture cast at the Seattle-area River Dog Foundry.

Seaweed People was quickly followed by Blue Jay, 1982, and then a series of rattles. Hoover's rattles are based on raven rattles, a standard accouterment of a Northwest Coast chief that were used in ceremonies. The different sounds and rhythms produced by a pair of rattles enhanced the drama of a chief's oratory. While the basic form of a traditional rattle is that of Raven holding a small object in his beak, referring to the myth of the bird bringing sunlight to mankind, Hoover more often created rattles in the shape of puffins than in Raven's image.

Hoover also created Hummingbird Feeder, 1982, in bronze, which, like Octopus Chimes, was meant to be an outdoor sculpture that could interact with the wind. Hummingbird Feeder, Octopus Chimes, and Sedna all demonstrate Hoover's interest in making sculptures that do not rise from the ground, but rather hang from the ceiling, creating possibilities for movement.

In 1983 Hoover traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, for an exhibition at the Sheldon Jackson Memorial Art Gallery. He installed his work himself and remembers taking down an Alexander Calder mobile in the gallery's lobby to install one of his own works (Hoover's work is still on display in the same spot today). In deinstalling the Calder mobile, Hoover became intrigued with the form and balance of Calder's work. "It was massive, beautiful, always moving," recalled Hoover. When he returned home to his own studio, Hoover experimented further with the mobile form and its potential in his work. In 1985 he constructed Shaman's Tree of Life, now part of the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. In this work, rather than having the mobile hang from the ceiling, Hoover created his own version of a mobile, with a free-standing base, almost like a coat rack, from which a series of five birds rotate in a totem like structure. From each wing of each bird, small human figures dangle from twine strung with trading beads. The sculpture is meant to represent the many birds that were most important to the shaman. Different birds, as spirit helpers, had different powers. The shaman depended on all these powers to heal his or her people and to enter the spirit world.

In 1984 Hoover received a commission for what would become his favorite public art installation. Volcano Woman consists of thirteen figures and the central figure of Volcano Woman is surrounded by eight female figures (guardian spirits) forming an outer circle, and four cormorants making up an inner circle. Cormorants are diving sea birds, whose ability to both fly in the air and move underwater accounts for their appearance in shamanic contexts in Northwest and Alaskan cultures, as shamans often seek the guidance of creatures that can move from one environment to another. Hoover is pleased with the way this sculpture fills a seating area in the building and the complexity of the interaction of the forms.

Volcano Woman, in Northwest Coast culture, is the protector of the forest. People must respect Volcano Woman, as she protects all wild creatures as her children. Volcano Woman is volatile, vengeful, and violent at times. According to Lydia T. Black, a scholar of Aleut art and culture, only one Aleut story of Volcano Woman has been documented in writing, and no images of Volcano Woman exist from ancient times. Rather, Volcano Woman was described through oral traditions, from generation to generation. Hoover's depiction of Volcano Woman, however, combines the Aleut text (referred to by Black) and versions of the story from oral traditions with his own imagination. The story of Volcano Woman seeks to explain how the Aleutian Islands of Alaska were populated. Hoover recounted the story in this way:

Volcanoes were being formed in the Aleutians and the volcanoes formed islands. A flock of cormorants went by one volcano and a beautiful woman emerged, the Volcano Woman. So they all stopped and changed into human form and mated with her and then changed back into cormorants. But they flew their babies all over the islands, and, in this way, the islands became populated.

Hoover believes that his is the first visual interpretation of the Volcano Woman story by an artist. Each of the three separate, but interrelated, circular elements is a different color, which Hoover says reflect natural earth tones: grays, greens, and reds. The simple, plain carving on the backsides of the figures is consistent with the Northwest Coast tradition, which usually left the backs of totem poles, mortuary poles, and other ceremonial sculptures unadorned.

To carve the sculpture, Hoover selected a single three-hundred-year-old cedar log and had it planed into boards of varying thicknesses, as required for each element of the composition. Saws were used to take the boards down to their rough shapes, and then they were sculpted by hand with a series of woodcarving gouges. Hoover worked for six months in his Grapeview studio carving the legend into life, before it was installed at the William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. Of his public commissions Hoover said with a wink, "No one has gotten mad at my public art yet. Even the naked ones like Volcano Woman. Maybe I'm not provocative enough."

In the mid-1980s Hoover returned to some simpler sculptural forms. Salmon Women, 1985, is a diptych with two salmon hinged at the back and at the tail. Inside each of the salmon are two androgynous figures. The color, too, is subtle, with light shades of orange and green. Salmon People, 1985, is a similar work, with two fish, showing their sharpened teeth, enclosing the shapes of two female figures. Here the color is even more subtle, with much of the wood left natural and the rest of the work in shades of brown. Walrus Spirit Mask, 1985, shows a return to Hoover's cutout mask forms. Here, the circular face of a walrus is only disrupted by two tusk shapes that protrude from the center. Underwater Loon Woman, 1985, has a female head with two loons rising from the nape of her neck. The form is again simple, although this time Hoover has made the repeated shapes asymmetrical, with one loon shorter than the other.


New Beginnings

By 1986 Hoover was experimenting with more complex structures for his artwork. Kingfisher Spirit features a more jagged cutout edge, inspired by the spiked head feathers of the kingfisher. Kingfishers are straight-billed, colorful, crested shorebirds with excellent fishing skills. Kingfisher is considered a useful spirit guide by the people of the Northwest Coast because it is at home in various environments and quite solitary and resourceful. Hoover's kingfisher depiction features a strong, straight beak and a short tail. In other Northwest Coast art, kingfishers are commonly depicted with a fish in its beak or talons. The side panels of Hoover's triptych are identical to each other, as in most of Hoover's earlier triptychs, but this time one is flipped upside-down, a prelude to Hoover's later experiments with more asymmetrical forms.

Hoover's work from the late 1980s is marked by spirit masks with a centerpiece surrounded by multiple, repeated carvings of another form -- such as human figures, salmon, or birds. The carved forms that radiate out from the central carving recall the feathers that were placed around Yup'ik style masks in ancient times. Salmon Man, 1987, is one such example, with a complicated facial image of human figures and salmon surrounded by eight human figures. Hoover continued to experiment with his mask forms with appendages during the late 1980s. Aleut Hunter Spirit Mask, 1987, features the face of an otter, with a spirit helper balanced atop his forehead. On each side, two Aleut hunters with bentwood hats and spears, seated in kayaks, face the otter.

Hoover was also constructing more freestanding works during this time. Frog and Heron, 1987), is a four-foot-tall carved heron standing on the flattened form of a frog, which serves as the base for the sculpture. Frogs appear only occasionally in Hoover's work. When used, they most often have a secondary role as companions to another animal he is depicting. As an amphibian that lives in two worlds, water and land, the frog is admired for its adaptability, knowledge, and the power to traverse and inhabit diverse realms, both natural and supernatural. Frogs are primary spirit helpers of shamans.

Salmon Woman, 1987, similar to Frog and Heron, although more ambitious in its form. A female figure is suspended from a base with two bear heads by two partial wolf forms. Salmon protrude from her hips and a cluster of eggs decorates her belly. Hoover incorporated all of these animals, as well as the human figure, to suggest all these creatures' dependence upon the salmon for food. A pair of sculptures called Loon Children,1989, and Swan Spirit, 1988, are also free-standing works from this time period.

The early 1990s saw a continuation of these themes in Hoover's work. Most works from this time have a minimal use of color, with mostly natural tones, as in Seal Child, 1990, and Loon Spirit, 1991. Many of the works are large freestanding works such as And You Thought You Were Pregnant, 1992, and That's What You Get for Horsing Around, 1993. Both of these works include hinges and are made up of two pieces. The hinges are not to create a diptych, however, but to provide Hoover with a wider surface area. The hinges are not functional as hinges, because the works are attached to a base and do not have the ability to fold and unfold. One of Hoover's favorite works from this time is Aleut Storyboard, 1993, another reference to the Aleut's dependence upon the sea otter.

By the early 1990s Hoover's life was almost entirely dedicated to art, rather than split between art and fishing. Hoover continued to fish in Alaska every summer until 1993 when he finally retired from this laborious work. The tradition does continue, however: Hoover's wife Mary and daughter Anna continue to own and operate a commercial fishing boat out of Bristol Bay.

In the mid-1990s, Hoover experimented with asymmetrical triptychs, adding another layer to the folding and unfolding of his sculptures. He also added brighter colors as well as metallic paints -- particularly copper. Loon Lady, 1994, is an asymmetrical triptych. In the center is a dancing female figure. On her left side are two shorter loons painted in purple; on her right are two larger, two-toned brown loons. Each set of loons mirrors one another, but the sets are not identical, creating an asymmetrical effect. Loon People, 1996, is another asymmetrical triptych. The loon makes up the center of the sculpture, looking up at one of the two white female figures on its left. Those figures stand back-to-back, with their heads tilting away from one another. On the loon's right, two more figures stand, with both heads tilting toward the loon. One of the figures is female, while the other is a male with a bright orange torso.

Blue Jay Man, Self-portrait, 1995, is one of few self-portraits Hoover created in his career. In the center is the artist wearing a leather cord strung with a human figure sculpted in ivory, similar to necklaces often worn by Hoover. When the sculpture is closed, the face of the artist is encircled by two blue jays; when open, four blue jays accompany the artist. Hoover chose the blue jay as for this personal triptych because he has always identified with the bird -- in part because his middle name is Jay. The local blue jay, known as the Stellar's jay, is a chatty, active bird that is common along the Northwest Coast and is related to crows and ravens. It is also a frequent visitor to Hoover's Grapeview home. Like Raven, the blue jay is a trickster in the mythologies of Salish cultures. Hoover, who is known for his joke telling, feels an affinity to the blue jay in this way as well.

In 1995 Hoover was chosen to participate in an international traveling exhibition organized by the Heard Museum. He contributed one sculpture, a large bird form called Shaman in the Form of an Eagle, to the exhibition, which included works by more than two hundred artists. He and his family accompanied his work to New Zealand, where he was deeply moved by a visit to Wangahui, one of the older Maori settlements. Hoover met with Maori tribes and was honored at numerous ceremonies.

In 1997 the Heard Museum selected twelve contemporary Indian artists to show their work in the sculpture garden of the White House. By tradition, begun by Jackie Kennedy, this exhibition was sponsored by the First Lady. Hillary Clinton continued Joan Mondale's program of displaying American art in the White House. She featured art from a different area of the nation, each year replacing the sculptures in the Kennedy Garden with new work. The Heard Museum did not own an outdoor piece by Hoover, so the artist had another bronze edition of Seaweed People, previously cast in 1982, made specifically for the exhibition.

The installation of American Indian sculpture, displayed in the Jacqueline Kennedy Gardens from November 1997 through September 1998, was the first exclusively Native American selection, which Clinton noted in the brochure: 'Visitors to the White House will be reminded of the irreplaceable contributions of Native Americans. I hope this celebration of our country's creative spirit will enable each of us to gain a greater appreciation of the vibrant cultural traditions we share as a nation and as a people," Clinton wrote.

Seaweed People is a visualization of the spirit helpers who assist the Aleut people. This image of humanistic seaweed forms comes not from ancient stories, but from Hoover's imagination. "The Seaweed People are just my idea," said Hoover. "...Natives that live on the coast, on the salt water, depended upon seaweed for years. That was their Safeway store. They gathered seaweed and made everything out of it. If you have ever seen bull kelp, swaying and dancing with the currents, you can see what it is I was trying to portray in this sculpture."

Hoover says the pinnacle of his career, thus far, was in 1998 when he created a monumental bronze sculpture of Raven, titled Raven the Creator, for the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. Hoover chose the image of Raven for the sculpture because this animal is identified as the original Creator in much of Native American mythology and he wanted something that could represent all the Natives of Alaska. Hoover added elements from different legends about Raven to his sculpture, especially the iconography of stealing the Box of Daylight, in which the Old Man of the Nass kept the celestial bodies. Stars dangle from Raven's beak, and the sun and the moon hang from each wing. The human figures in his claws resemble the triptych icons used by the Orthodox faithful in Aleut regions. The human face in the belly of Raven represents Mother Earth, and the face at the back of the head of Raven is symbolic of the many transformations made by Raven.

"It was rewarding to get that commission," said Hoover, "I think nine other Alaska Native artists applied for it." Hoover submitted a sketch to the public art committee, which made the selections of artwork for the brand-new cultural center in Anchorage. When the proposal was accepted, Hoover immediately went to work on one of his biggest and most challenging projects.

We had to make the damn raven from a sketch and it was quite a challenge. We got a block of foam ten feet long, five feet wide, and two feet thick that weighed 500 pounds. We made templates from the original sketch and enlarged them and then started cutting away at the foam. It took us six weeks to get the plug,1 as they call it. And they took the plug to the foundry and cut it all up into pieces and cast them individually and then welded them all back together. Took them four months to do it -- and forty thousand bucks.

A Grapeview neighbor and friend, Jim Knull, worked with Hoover to sculpt the foam. Knull is a trained woodworker, who makes sculpted furniture. The job was messy. "Any time you touched the foam, the powder, like sugar, would just fly up in the air. And we didn't wear masks or anything. It was quite icky," said Hoover. He was exceedingly pleased with the results, however. "It turned out so good, it was amazing," he mused. "And all, most Natives in Alaska can relate to it. It's a striking piece. Sometimes I can't believe we did that." The image of the thirteen-foot-high bronze sculpture was used by the Census Bureau on posters and T-shirts to encourage Alaska Natives and others in rural Alaskan areas to participate in Census 2000.



In the late 1990s Hoover was creating unified wall-hanging works, most of which did not rely on symmetry or diptych and triptych forms. Blue Jay Spirit Helper, 1997, is a freestanding work that is now part of the collection of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. A female figure is being transformed into a blue jay. The inua of the blue jay is represented by faces on each of the bird's wings.

Looner Eclipse, 1999, is a departure from Hoover's earlier work. A quarter moon forms an arc on which rests five loons. The loons are different heights and face in various directions. Layering of the images suggests a sense of depth and space rarely used by Hoover in his carvings.

In 1999, shortly after his eightieth birthday, Hoover underwent triple bypass heart surgery.

I was never sick until I was eighty years old. I was lucky there; that was quite an achievement. Once I got to be eighty, I aged eighty year -- had triple bypass surgery and spent two weeks in the hospital. I didn't know if I was going to live or die. That was really tough.

Now recovered, Hoover continues to be driven by his need to create:

The creation of images has become a very serious and important part of my life. A religious aspect has crept slowly to the fore. A closer contact with and a deeper understanding of shamanism, a deeper search within my own consciousness, being more aware of Nature -- all of these things are part of the search for fulfillment, which eventually are resolved in my art form and style.

The first carving Hoover completed after his bypass surgery is Shaman's Journey, 2000. The sculpture is a circular cutout featuring the face of a shaman, which is illustrated by only the eyes, nose, and mouth. The cheeks of the shaman, and the outline of the Shaman's face, have been cut out, a use of positive and negative space not often seen in Hoover's earlier work. The shaman is female and the circle framing her face is made up of ravens, who are escorting the shaman on her journey. Hoover said this sculpture was an important piece not just because of the subject matter, but also because it represented a return to his work as an artist, something he missed during his illness. "I couldn't do anything for months," Hoover lamented. "I lost fifty pounds. I didn't know whether I was dead or alive. It was good to start carving again."

Since his illness, Hoover's works are more roughly carved, with broader gouges in the wood. The wood is thicker, with less carved away from the original cedar plank. In most of his diptychs and triptychs, he is no longer carving the backs of the pieces. He is still working large, creating many freestanding works, mobiles, and wall-hangings. He continues to experiment with singular pieces that do not involve hinging, such as Salmon Woman, 2000, Woman Shaman Transforming Into Her Puffin Spirit Helper, 2000, and Woman Transforming Into Eagle Spirit Helper, 2000. He has also expanded his triptych forms, with a new interest in the totem form. He is creating what he calls "triple triptychs," with a repetition of the triptych form and images stacked in threes, such as in Aleut Totem, 2000.

Hoover's most recent idea for an artwork, yet to be realized, is to create a fifteen-foot-high fountain cast in bronze: "It'll have a base of rocks and I'll put beads that look like salmon eggs...a salmon woman and the salmon, coming back to spawn with her." Water will run down the figures. The fish will be made out of sheet copper and "they'll be bent and twisted so that, when the water hits them, they'll move and animate it."

Looking back on his artistic career, Hoover said, "I'm very proud of it, I guess. Grateful that [my work] was accepted; that people bought it. I have very few pieces left. I've been doing this for twenty-five years and have maybe a dozen pieces around here [his own home]." Hoover wants people to remember this about him: "That I was a good person with a good sense of humor. That's been an achievement. You can't live without a sense of humor; you've got to laugh once in a while. And music. I love music."

Hoover has also had a second chance at family. In 1985, when Hoover was sixty-five, he and wife Mary welcomed a daughter, Anna, into the world.

I remember Mary was concerned with my age and asked the doctor if it would affect the baby. The doctor said the baby would probably be smart and left-handed. Anna is left-handed and a straight-A student. We have been together every day for almost sixteen years. Anna and Mary have kept me young and happy. Together we have given slide presentations of my artwork at the Heard Museum and at the Frank Lloyd Wright Auditorium at Taliesin West. Since I'm hard of hearing, Anna would field and answer questions and explain the slides as they were projected. After the presentations, everyone came and talked to Anna! She took nine orders for art commissions that day.

They continue to make their home in Grapeview. In his eighty-first year, John Hoover continues to be an inspiration, not just for those who dedicate their lifetimes to creating art, mastering their craft, breaking new ground, and reviving ancient cultures, but also for those who want to spend their life living it to its fullest and richest potential. Hoover's work tells of ancient spirits and ancient peoples, but hidden among the tales is a much more personal story -- the story of one man who has spent a lifetime creating. Hoover is an Aleut and a modern man who has forged a unique path through his life; an artist and a fisherman, a musician and a storyteller. In each of these roles, he has striven to dedication, perseverance, and perfection.


Final Thoughts

Hoover has made a unique contribution to the realms of contemporary Alaskan art and contemporary Native art. Interest in Native traditions has grown in the last fifty years and has produced a renaissance of lost arts throughout Alaska and the Northwest. The revival of traditional arts among Pacific Northwest Coast Indians, Athabaskans, and Inupiats us reflected in many major works of art. The preservation of tradition, and artistic revival, has been a powerful means of strengthening Native identity and a sense of community. Many, like Hoover, have worked to reclaim that heritage and to discover the ancient traditions that have been lost.

A major revival of Northwest Coast art began in the 1950s. Artists working within the highly formalized traditional conventions needed to understand the entire cultural complex, both as a resource for their art and to give it context. The art revival inspired an overall cultural revival, as myths, songs, dances, ceremonies, and histories were rediscovered by artists and passed along. While earlier generations of Native artists had, as expected, worked with traditional compositions, contemporary artists like Hoover view Native traditions as an inspiration and theme. They have redefined the rules to permit extensive borrowing, adaptation, and innovation; artists not only research and develop artistic styles and images of their own cultural heritage, but work outside of their personal affiliations as well.

Hoover aligns himself with other prominent Native artists whom he sees as innovators, such as Charles Loloma, Fritz Scholder, and T.C. Cannon. He knew Loloma and Scholder particularly well, but appreciated Cannon primarily through his artwork. Loloma (1921­1991) was a Hopi who, after years of working with clay and weaving, began making jewelry. He was a self-taught silversmith and his earliest metal works were mainly cast objects designed in a traditional Hopi fashion. From 1962 until 1965 he taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Loloma was known for including "inner gems" in his jewelry. These stones, hidden on the inner side of his jewelry pieces, were meant to indicate the inner beauty of the wearer.

Fritz Scholder (b. 1937) was born in Minnesota, and grew up in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. He was one-quarter Luseino, a California Mission tribe. In 1957 Scholder moved with his family to Sacramento, California, where he studied art with Wayne Thiebaud. Scholder joined Thiebaud, along with Grey Kondos and Peter Vandenberg, in creating a cooperative gallery in Sacramento. Scholder later studied art at the University of Arizona in Tucson and received an M.F.A. degree there. In 1964 he accepted the position of instructor of advanced painting and contemporary art history at the newly formed Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. There he created a series of paintings depicting what he called the "real Indian." The series was controversial, as Scholder was the first to paint Indians with American flags and beer cans, targeting national clichés. Scholder resigned from the Institute in 1969 and traveled to Europe and Africa. He eventually returned to Santa Fe, where he built a house and studio. In the 1970s he began making lithographs and became widely known for that medium. In 1972 Scholder was invited by the Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution to have a two-person show of his own work and that of one of his former students at the Institute. Scholder chose T.C. Canon and the exhibition received good reviews and traveled to Romania, Yugoslavia, Berlin and London. He has since been featured in many books, monographs, and a PBS documentary. Scholder was interested in the ways in which humans relate to one another, the land, technology, and history. Like Hoover, he did not grow up as an Indian -- this gave the two artists a similarity of experience, but a unique experience to bring to the art world at large. Both Scholder and Hoover were exploring their own identities in relation their own ancestors' heritage and other ancient cultures.

T.C. Cannon (1946-1978), a Native American of Kiowa-Caddo ancestry, was born in Lawton, Oklahoma. By the time Cannon was sixteen years old, he was studying at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where he was introduced to Scholder. After two years of study at the Institute in Santa Fe, he left for one year to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1969 Cannon returned to Santa Fe for another year to study philosophy and painting. In 1971 he entered Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma, where he graduated three years later. In 1974 he again returned to Santa Fe to make it his permanent home, but he was soon invited to spend one year as an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College. During this year, in Hanover, New Hampshire, he developed a collaborative relationship with Japanese master woodcarver Maeda and master printer Uchikawa, who were also working as artists-in-residence. The friendship between the three artists continued until the time of Cannon's death. This resulted in the highly acclaimed publication of the Memorial Woodcut Suite. Cannon was only thirty-three when he died in an automobile accident in Santa Fe.

All of these artists helped to revise and replace outmoded and paternalistic concepts of Native crafts with a new and vigorous category of "art by artists who happen to be Indian." They, along with Hoover, accepted the challenge to interpret their culture in ways that combine innovation and tradition. They were also willing to explore techniques and materials that were non-Native, drawing on images and methods from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Through the efforts of these and other artists, Native art has continued to flourish both in its original cultural context and in the international art world.

A new generation of artists, younger than Hoover, who have apprenticed with established master artists is now beginning to emerge. The best of these artists have been able to balance tradition with the need to innovate and to represent modern issues. The number of female artists in Northwest Coast and Alaskan art has also been growing, which has increased the awareness and appreciation of traditional materials and techniques such as weaving and appliqué, as well as the woodcarvings done by many female artists. Women have taken these traditional forms and turned them into truly original and innovative contemporary work. New materials such as glass, bronze, mixed media, and fabricated materials have also been introduced, though many artists still continue to work in such traditional materials as gold, silver, argillite, wood, and graphics. Native artists have also taken their work into public places, with many large-scale site-specific installations.

Hoover has contributed to the renaissance and revival of the lost arts. He found himself among others who were doing the same, although his artistic and personal motivations came almost solely from within. He has preserved ancient stories from cultures such as that of the Aleuts, which had almost been lost. From ancient materials and methods, Hoover has borrowed, adapted, and innovated, taking traditional tools, templates, and designs and transforming them into his own creations. Through his innovation, he has defined what it is to be an artist and what it is to be a Native American artist. He has strengthened Native identity, exhibiting his works in museums and galleries throughout the world. His dedication to his art and his craft is an inspiration for young generations now emerging and generations yet to come.

Hoover calls his work "an obsession, something I have to do. If I'm not doing it I don't feel whole. Sometimes I struggle, but it has got to come. Creating something makes you feel joyous, especially in the moment you are doing it."

The rest of us are fortunate for his obsession.



Selected Public & Corporate Collections


Alaska Native Medical Center, U.S. Department of Public Health, Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska State Museum, Juneau, Alaska

Allan Houser Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska

Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Chugiak High School, Chugiak, Alaska

Daybreak Star Art Center, Seattle, Washington

Doyon Corporation, Fairbanks, Alaska

Gulf States Paper Company, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Heard Museum of Anthropology and Primitive Art, Phoenix, Arizona

Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

King County Arts Commission, Washington

King County Courthouse, Seattle, Washington

L.A. County Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles, California

Mears Junior High School, Anchorage, Alaska

Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska

Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Seattle Arts Commission, Washington

Seattle Art Museum, Washington

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska

Tyonek Corporation, Anchorage, Alaska

Unalaska City School, Alaska

University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska

William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center, Anchorage, Alaska


Selected Bibliography



Ames, Kenneth M. and Herbert D.G. Mascher. People of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

Archuleta, Margaret. Twentieth Century American Sculpture at The White House: Honoring Native America. Phoenix, Arizona: The Heard Museum of Anthropology and Primitive Art, 1997.

Black, Lydia T. Aleut Art. Anchorage: Aangangain Press, Aleutian / Pribilof Islands Association, 1982.

Decker, Julie. Icebreakers: Alaska's Most Innovative Artists. Anchorage: Decker Art Services, 1999.

Dixon-Kennedy. Native American Myth and Legend. London: Blanford: London,1996.

Fitzhugh, William W. and Aron Crowell. Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988.

Highwater, Jamake. The Sweetgrass Lives On. New York: Lippencort & Crowell, 1980.

Holm, Bill. Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965.

Houllian, Patrick T. Invitational Sculpture. Phoenix, Arizona: The Heard Museum of Anthropology and Primitive Art, 1977.

Indianische Hunst. Munich, Germany: Prestle Verlang, 1987.

Johnson, Maggie. John Hoover. Alaska Artists Solo Exhibition Series Catalogue. Anchorage: Anchorage Museum of History and Art, 1990.

Katz, Jane B. This Song Remembers: Self-Portraits of Native Americans in the Arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Ray, Dorothy Jean. Aleut and Eskimo Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980.

Ritter, Harry. Alaska's History: The People, the Land and Events of the North Country. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Books, 1993.

Shearar, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings and Symbols. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2000.

Stewart, Hilary. Cedar. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984.

Wade, Edwin L. The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in Evolution. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Hudson Hills Press, in association with Philbrook Museum of Art, 1986.


Articles, Essays, Interviews & Periodicals

Ament, Deloris Tarzan. "Artists' Works Full of Nature's Power." The Seattle Times. 24 February 1993: C2.

Anstine, Dennis. Totem Tidings: "The Sculptor is a Fisherman or the Fisherman is a Sculptor." The Daily Olympian Sunday. 24 Oct, 1976.

Banks, Kenneth. "Visage Transcended: Contemporary Native American Masks." Native Vision: a Bimonthly Arts Newsletter Published by American Indian Contemporary Arts. Vol II. No 5, Nov-Dec 1985.

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About the author

Julie Decker is independent author and curator in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a co-owner and manager of the Decker / Morris Gallery, a retail gallery featuring original artwork by Alaskan artists in downtown Anchorage, and a co-director of the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, an non-profit alternative space for visual artists in Alaska. She is also a co-curator of the annual children's exhibitions at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. She is a co-curator of the exhibition John Hoover: Art & Life organized by the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

Decker is the author of Icebreakers: Alaska's Most Innovative Artists, a guide to the last twenty-five years of art production in Alaska, and Found & Assembled in Alaska, featuring found-object art by contemporary Alaskan artists.

Decker holds bachelor degrees in journalism and fine art from the University of Oregon and a master's degree in arts administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in contemporary art history, criticism and management from the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Decker grew up in Anchorage, Alaska.

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