Artist Media Series
Don Johnston (Aleut) was born in Ketchikan, Alaska. He apprenticed with James Omnik, Sr. a well-known baleen basket weaver. In the years since those first important lessons, Don has continued to improve and innovate his unique weaving style. Needless to say, this piece is extraordinary. The kayak is woven from baleen. The top and bottom are larger, polished pieces of baleen. The piece has two figures. One has an oar and one is the hunter. The oar and spear are both made out of baleen and then the oar has fossilized ivory insets! Don said that he stylized the two figures to be Summer hunters. He carved the faces of the hunters, as well as using various shades of fossilized ivory or mastodon ivory to create the coloration. The black on the figures is carved sections of baleen. They are amazing in style and detail. Underneath the kayak is a fossilized ivory seal and the kayak is attached and balanced on the seal. The seal has baleen whiskers. Don says the story of the piece is that the hunter in the kayak has missed the seal, which is underneath the boat. The top half is removable by the edge, not the figures. There is always a locking lip on the bottom inside of the lid.” Simply exceptional! We are pleased to have his work at both our galleries in Santa Fe and Scottsdale!
What is baleen?
Baleen plates have hair-like structures that filter out tiny floating organisms and fish and are found in the mouth these plankton-eating whales. Baleen was originally used for indigenous objects like water cups, buckets, and sleds. The Bowhead whale has been subsistence hunted by Alaska Coastal Natives, including the Yup’ik and Inupiat for over 1,000 years, and no part of the whale is ever wasted. A butchered bowhead whale can yield thousands of pounds of food. The community shares of meat and blubber are apportioned equitably to ensure that everyone benefits from a successful hunt.