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Kodiak artist opening opportunities for others

By Louis Garcia
Kodiak, Alaska  (AP) 12-09

A recent art class at the Alutiiq Museum was filled with children eager to learn how to make Alutiiq masks.

Alutiiq artist Coral Chernoff taught this first class in a series of three to be held at the museum. She has a very hands-on approach to teaching that the kids seemed to enjoy as they painted their mask ornaments. Each child made one wooden ornament decorated with beads and paint. Sara Squartsoff, education coordinator at the museum, said museum personnel chose Chernoff to do classes after hearing her ideas and realizing the timing was right.

“She had so many wonderful ideas, Squartsoff said. “We thought the Alutiiq mask ornaments were a good project for this time of year.”

Chernoff is teaching these classes because she wants to give Kodiak residents the opportunity to do more with art.

“There’s not much of an opportunity in town to take arts and craft classes,” Chernoff said. “I’m trying to provide an opportunity for that to happen in the community.”

There also are two other benefits to joining in on the classes Chernoff said.

“I try to have them at a low cost so a lot of people can participate,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for the kids to be exposed to new mediums and you don’t have to learn out of a book, you can come and learn from somebody.”

Having people over at her house eager to join in and do whatever art she is doing was also something that made her want to teach the classes.

“I enjoy doing it so much, and then people come over to my house – my kids and their friends – they sit down, and end up doing whatever I’m working on, too. And they really enjoy it,” she said. “So I thought I’d put some classes out there so people would have the opportunity to do arts and crafts.”

The kids’ parents were with their kids and were eager to praise the class as they helped children paint the masks and attach the copper wire.

“Every time Coral does something it’s great,” Balika Haakanson, mother of 6-year-old Eilidh, said. “They’ve (the kids) been here for 45 minutes and they’re still engaged.”

Theresa Peterson, mother of 8-year-old Elizabeth was interested in the chance to learn more about the history of the island.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity, very affordable, and an opportunity to learn more about the Alutiiq mask
-– something we’re both interested in,” Peterson said.

Chernoff, who has been working with the museum for six years, held a mask puzzle class last year at the museum where kids painted their own mask puzzles. She also has done non-museum related classes on Alutiiq felt dolls, drum making and beading on leather through the Sun’aq tribe.

The next two classes are on Dec. 12, participants will make bracelets and ivory rings. Squartsoff would like to see the classes continue at the museum.

“Doing some type of workshop with Alutiiq artists each month is my goal,” she said.