The native peoples of Southeastern Alaska have a unique artistic style – animals, often with exaggerated features, with their forms filled with stacked ovals, u-shaped filigrees, l-shaped filigrees, and other geometrics. Even if you think you are unfamiliar with it, you have seen the style if you have ever seen travel posters for Alaska. Fortunately, this style adapts extremely well to metal clay.
One of the best-known myths of Southeastern Alaska is ‘Raven Steals the Sun’. In this myth, Gray Eagle hates people so much that he hides the sun and moon, so people have to live in darkness. Raven, the trickster figure, devises a plan to steal the sun and moon (either together or separately, depending on whom you ask) from Gray Eagle. Raven carries out his plan, and places the sun and moon in the sky.
I am going to describe creating an Alaskan style image of Raven Steals the Sun. Initially, an outline of Raven is cut from 0.75 mm thickness silver clay (I used silver – copper or bronze would work as well, but would require more work to affix pieces together). Note the exaggerated beak – this is both to emphasize the sun that Raven carries and to make the piece more consistent with the Raven masks often worn in ceremonial dances. I used a bezel cup to hold the gem that will represent the sun (red opal). Of course you could use bezel wire, or could use a stone that will fire without damage.
The geometric infills are then done one step at a time. Most are 0.5mm thick, although some are thicker (some 0.75 mm, some stacked to higher than a mm). A few were embossed, to give them rounded edges.
Afterward, I sanded, fired and tumbled the piece. I decided to make a mold of it, since I had a request for a smaller copy of the same piece. By using a clay that shrinks quite a bit, I could use the mold to make a smaller copy without having to start over.
I applied a light patina, and polished the raised parts. Finally, I applied the opal to the bezel cup. The coin is for scale. If you are interested in making a ‘Raven Steals the Moon’, a moonstone would be a natural choice. Of course, you can use any stone you like — an Alaskan style human face, in place of the sun/moon, would be in keeping with Alaskan tradition.
I hope I have inspired you to try some Alaskan-style art. It is a bit tedious, but it is not as difficult as it looks. The admiration that the finished piece usually gets is well worth it.