Yup’ik dance fan makers create beautiful art

by K.J. Lincoln

The Eskimo Dance Fan Class from this past weekend gets together for a group photo to showcase their beautiful dance fan creations last Sunday at the Kuskokwim Campus. The group learned how to make taruyamaarutet ladies dance fans from artist/instructor Golga Qukailnguq Oscar who is seated in front.

A class of eager learners gathered together this past weekend to learn how to make their own Yup’ik-style ladies dance fans. The class was sponsored by the Southwest Alaska Arts Group, the CIRI Foundation, and the Kuskokwim Campus where the class took place. The instructor was Golga Oscar of Kasigluk and Tununak, his Eskimo name is Qukailnguq.

The dance fans were made with leather and calfskin. Some of student artists added beaver and otter fur and beaded designs to their fans. Each creation was as unique as the different individuals who made them.

Qukailnguq instructed each student through the different steps of making the fans, beginning with the base, the handles, and the front designs. The last step was to add the reindeer beard fur. The reindeer fur came in dried pieces and the skin on the back required soaking overnight and a lot of scraping and stretching.

The reindeer fur, which came from Nunivak Island, and all materials were provided by the class. Laura Ellsworth of the Kuskokwim Campus organized the supplies and logistics to make it a successful event.

By the second day on Saturday the pieces were beginning to take on their individually distinct characteristics – each artist had a story on how they chose their designs, how they carefully and thoughtfully decided what they wanted to portray through their art.

One person had a design that was inspired from a pair of earrings her cousin had made that was unique to their village. Another chose a design motivated by a logo from a boat from his native Taiwan. And others bore designs from past art projects – beaded flowers made by their mom and one that featured an Eskimo circular drum design. And another artist had beautiful caribou tufting on hers. The calfskin complimented the beaded designs and the fur and the white reindeer hair.

“I feel happy to be able to teach others about our cultural art and to pass on the knowledge that I learned. There is so much to learn about our cultural ways and teaching through arts is a way to keep our traditions alive,” said Qukailnguq speaking in Yugtun. “So much of our culture is being forgotten or not being used so it is important to keep working on things that promote awareness of our culture.”

He spoke of learning how to create art by observing and by doing and when he sees his students’ creations it makes him proud. He is a firm believer in not being idle. He seeks help and advice from his Elders who teach and counsel him.

“I want to thank my Elders and those who encourage me to pursue cultural knowledge. I thank my parents who encourage me to pursue my dreams. They push me to succeed and remind me that I can do whatever I aspire to do. Through your struggles you can succeed and that advice has helped me.”

Golga is a 2020 graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He is currently teaching in Kasigluk, Alaska.

On Sunday, the last day of class, everyone gathered for a group photo to showcase their beautiful Eskimo dance fan creations.