The Highlight of the Month program at The Indian Craft Shop focuses on a particular craft area, region or artist family/group. Our aim is to illustrate the diversity of tribal groups and the wide variety of artistic expressions and traditions in the country today.
Award-winning artist Suzanne Wardlow creates dolls that meticulously capture the ways of life in Yup'ik culture. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1972, she has been making dolls since she was twenty-three. She spent her childhood in the Yup'ik village of Bethel and surrounding villages. Much of her summers were spent berry picking with her mother, who used this time to teach Suzanne the ways of the Yup'ik women, just as she had been taught by her own mother. Suzanne uses many of the skills she learned then to create her dolls today -- basket weaving, sewing, preparing grasses and skins, beading and, most important of all, patience.
Using materials native to Alaska, she strives to achieve the highest degree of perfection. Her dolls depict the Yup'ik culture that she grew up in. "The dolls have a part of me in them," says Suzanne. "Each doll tells a different story. I want everyone who sees them to gain a little insight to the Yup'ik culture. I know my grandmother would be very proud that I am continuing to make dolls, and that makes all the hard work worthwhile."
Suzanne includes a matted storyboard with each doll, describing the materials used and each doll's significance. The faces are carved of basswood, or occasionally, ivory. The description of the mother and child in beaver-trimmed kuspuks (coats) and calfskin mukluks talks about their relationship to each other and the village. The Eagle Dancer, with its removable carved wooden headdress and sealskin cape, represents the importance of dance within the community. The Berry Picker, holding a wooden basket of berries, and the Basketweaver, sitting on a woven mat with her materials on it, show women performing traditional activities.
In addition to her dolls, Suzanne also carves masks, showing the influence of another important mentor and mask maker, her uncle, Jack Abraham. Her Mourning Mask, with its dark and light halves, represents life and death. The Woman's Mask is trimmed in arctic fox and beaver furs and has a traditional walrus ivory labret. The description tells how women used these items to achieve their own personal beauty.
Suzanne's work is original and meticulous, and provides a window into the Yup'ik culture.
©The Indian Craft Shop 2001