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Alaska Native Art in the Rural Northwest

South Writ Large asked Alaska Native artist Ecola Collier to reflect on her art in relation to her community throughout her career.
The most “community”-centered project I’ve done to date is the sandblasted bus shelters in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Our Cannon Beach Elementary School had a mural painted by students in the 1980s and 1990s. Being in the tsunami zone, the school closed in 2014, and it was unknown what would happen to the building and artwork that lined the breezeway.
I made a proposal to the City of Cannon Beach that I would take the imagery from the elementary school murals and sandblast those images onto the bus shelters throughout town.
Between 2014 and 2021, I completed six bus shelters. The imagery depicts drawings of our town, people, wildlife, and iconic landmarks. Although I am still unaware of what will happen to the old elementary school and the murals, it is nice to know that some of the sentiment will continue on through my work.

In 2021, I submitted a bear logo design for Brooks Camp in Katmai, Alaska. Every guest who goes to Brooks Camp is required to take a bear safety course, and at the end of the course, they receive a bear pin. This logo became the pin for the season. Katmai is such an incredible, otherworldly place. As a child, I would ask my parents to take us to Brooks to see the bears as my birthday presents. We have a long family history with Katmai. My great-grandparents rowed up the Naknek river into Katmai for their honeymoon in 1923 (right after the National Park was established).

Living in a small rural Alaskan community has many advantages. One of my favorite perks is the community-centered art workshops our local tribe hosts. Since moving to Seldovia in 2014, I have attended and taught multiple classes, my favorites being those focused on our Native heritage: from skin sewing hats, mittens, baby booties, and slippers to processing salmon and halibut skins for baskets, making our own ulus (traditional knives), birch baskets, beading moose hide, and tanning sea otters. We are extremely fortunate to live where we live, to be able to utilize our natural resources, and to learn traditional methods and techniques from our elders.