Artist Ron Senungetuk dies at 87

Jan 22, 2020

Ron Senungetuk, in his studio with a ceremonial drum he made for a village in northern Alaska.
Credit Rika Mouw

Artist Ronald Senungetuk of Homer died on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 after a long illness. He was born in 1933 in Kinigin, Wales, Alaska in a traditional sod house. He attended Mt. Edgecumbe School in Sitka. Ron Senungetuk was Inupiat, a sculptor, silversmith and wood carver of massive cultural influence as an artist, educator and mentor.

On a Fulbright scholarship in Oslo,  Norway beginning in 1960 he both met his wife Turid and was offered and accepted a position at University of Alaska Fairbanks in the budding metalsmithing program.

In 1965, he joined the faculty as founding director of the UAF Native Arts Center and served as the head of the UAF Arts Department from 1977 until his retirement in 1986.  He moved to Homer in 1998.
Homer artist Rika Mouw came to KBBI studios on Wednesday to remember Ron Senungetuk’s art and legacy.

Transcript - Rika Mouw:

As a high school student at Mt. Edgecumbe, Ron met teacher George Fedoroff and learned wood carving, initially making bowls and trays. He went to Rochester Institute of Technology at the School of American Craft and furthered in wood carving and furniture making. Ron was drafted in the Army for 2 years during the Korean war and upon his return, there were no spaces left in the woodworking program at RIT, so he explored silversmithing and loved it which spurred an extraordinary period of metalsmithing.

Ron later returned his focus to woodworking, carving marvelous panels of traditionally inspired subjects in a truly contemporary expression. He was a meticulous carver and worked in a meticulous studio
expressing animals, people, celebration, light, the ocean and pattern.

His work is in private collections all over the world. It is in the collections of the Museum of the North at UAF, the Anchorage Museum, State Museum, Pratt Museum and the Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

He has large 1% for art installations in Fairbanks, Kodiak and Golovin and was one of the original members of what is now called the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Their logo is his design.   

Ron was a teacher, lecturer, curator mentor and international traveler.
In 2008 The Rasmuson Foundation gave him a Distinguished Artist Award.
In 2014 the AK State Council on the Arts awarded him a lifetime achievement award. He served on the boards of the Homer Foundation and Bunnell Street Arts Center.

In the past 20 years, I have had  many, many stimulating conversations on art, travel, culture, politics, fishing with Ron. It is an honor and incredibly enriching to have watched Ron at work in his studio, admired and acquired his work, and learned so much from this very wise man. I am humbled by his vision, bravery and accomplishments.