Tlingit master carver chosen for Rasmuson Foundation’s ‘Distiguished Artist’ award

Wayne Price poses for a photo in front of a dugout canoe that he built himself. (Photo by Henry Leasia/KHNS)

The Rasmuson Foundation recognized Haines master carver Wayne Price as its 2020 Distinguished Artist on Monday.

Each year the foundation presents the $40,000 award to an Alaskan who has made outstanding contributions to arts and culture in the state over the course of their life.

Price grew up in Haines and has been carving wood and making art since he was a teenager.

He got his start learning Northwest Coast art from artists Leo Jacobs, Ed Kasko and John Hagen. Now he owns and lives in the house where the Haines nonprofit Alaska Indian Arts used to be.

“We’re having this conversation where I learned how to carve actually,” Price said during an interview at his home. “These walls were full of a lot of artwork. I made my appearance sweeping up chips and emptying the trash cans.”

Price said he remembers working on his formline design skills for six months before he was allowed to start carving.

“It was really tough,” Price laughed. “Watching all the carving.”

Wayne’s Price’s “Dancing Raven Hat,” pictured here in 2014.
(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

He soon got hooked on the process of taking a chunk of wood and turning it into a fine piece of artwork.

Over the course of his career, Price has carved 38 totem poles and 12 dugout canoes among numerous other projects.

For Price, art isn’t just about making something that’s nice to look at. There is a healing power to it. He tackles issues like substance abuse, domestic violence and historical trauma through his carving. He also promotes healthy lifestyle choices with the North Tide Canoe Kwaan, a group that teaches carving and makes ocean voyages in traditional dugout canoes.

“Staying in touch with the art of the Northwest Coast keeps your days very full. We stay very busy. We do a lot of outreach and it touches a lot of people’s lives. We can make a difference out there,” Price said.

Recently, Price has been teaching Northwest Coast Art at the University of Alaska Southeast. He said the students have been very devoted to their work and were preparing for a First Friday exhibition in Juneau when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It was going very well. We’ll see what this new chapter’s going to bring,” he said. “I don’t quite have all the answers, but I do know that our culture and our art has survived much worse, and we’ll get through this too.”

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