AFN arts market reconvenes for in-person celebration of Alaska Native craftsmanship

an AFN artisan
Jennifer Hanlon owns StrawBeary Boutique and designs beaded jewelry featuring blueberries and strawberries. (Photo by Wesley Early/AKPM)

The Alaska Federation of Natives arts and craft show returned in-person this year for the first time since 2019. 

For Indigenous artists from across the state and Outside, it represented a welcome return to the market circuit. AFN’s show is the largest of its kind in the state. 

Inside the exhibit hall at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage, hundreds of people milled around, gazing at the array of tables displaying Alaska Native and American Indian artwork. 

Jennifer Hanlon lives in Ketchikan. She’s Lingít and originally from Yakutat. She makes jewelry, selling her earrings through her business StrawBeary Boutique. 

She said she started beading while attending college in the Lower 48 as a way to feel connected to home, creating designs with blueberries, strawberries and flowers common to Southeast Alaska.

During the pandemic, she used the extra time she had stuck at home to start up again. This was her first AFN selling her work at the market. 

“It’s good to finally have an opportunity to be in-person and to just see friends and family from across the state for this beautiful gathering and just feeling reconnected to everyone during a very trying time of our collective chapter in our lives,” Hanlon said.

A steady stream of patrons kept Hanlon busy throughout the market. 

an AFN artisan
Earl Atchak from Chevak carves bone and ivory masks and dolls. His Mary Peltola doll attracted a lot of attention at this year’s AFN arts and craft market. (Photo by Wesley Early/AKPM)

Earl Atchak is Cup’ik Eskimo from Chevak. He’s carved ivory and bone masks and dolls for 40 years. During AFN, he proudly displayed an 18-inch doll of Rep. Mary Peltola with an ivory face, a kuspuk and fur-lined boots. 

“I’ve done different kinds of dolls, and every time I make a political doll, that person seems to always win,” Atchak said. 

He said he carved Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010 when she was running as a write-in candidate. Then he did the same thing for the late Byron Mallott, when he dropped out of the governor’s race in 2014 to join Bill Walker as his running mate. 

This time around, he caved to peer pressure. 

“I told these political doll stories to my friends in the steam bath. One of them said ‘you better make a Mary Peltola doll!’” he said. 

Atchak said more than 150 people had come by to take a picture of the doll on the first day of the market — including Peltola herself. 

“Hopefully it’ll go viral,” he said.

Atchak said his business stayed afloat during the pandemic thanks to collectors, who are always interested in buying his work. Still, he hoped to make as much as $50,000 over the course of the three-day event. 

Other artists came from as far away as Arizona. Many expected to completely sell out of their stock before the final day on Saturday.

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