Portrait of the Late Morris Thompson to be Unveiled at AFN Reception
Fairbanks, AK –– A new portrait of the late Morris Thompson will be unveiled during the Alaska Federation of Natives Board of Directors reception on Tuesday, October 19th, at 5:30 p.m. The 5 ft. by 4 ft. oil on canvas painting will hang in the main lobby of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center (MTCVC).
Athabascan artist James Grant, Sr. started the oil on canvas portrait in 2008. “James is a renowned artist; and as a cousin of the late Athabascan leader, we especially were pleased with the personal family connection between the artist and Uncle Morris,” said MTCVC Board President Charlene Marth, who is also a niece of Thompson. Grant worked on the painting while undergoing cancer treatment, and completed the majority of the painting before he passed in April 2010.
The MTCVC board struggled with how to finish the portrait in a way that would accurately represent Thompson, and at the same time honor Grant’s artistic style and vision for the portrait and the frame. It seemed like a stroke of luck when a friend remembered that one of Thompson’s favorite artists was Yupik artist Moses “Uksuq” Wassilie. When the board learned that Wassilie had already painted a portrait of Thompson’s wife Thelma, it just made sense to ask Wassilie to finish the piece. Wassilie took the project on in August and completed the portrait in September, 2010.
Completion of the hand-carved cedar frame also has a familial connection. James Grant’s brother, Jay Schrock, is an accomplished wood carver who often worked side-by-side with Grant on his art projects. Schrock completed the frame based on his brother’s original plans. Hand-carved flowers representative of Athabascan beadwork, a traditional Chief’s necklace, and a painted scene from Thompson’s hometown of Tanana are all featured on the frame.Thompson’s daughter Nicole Jordan will be in attendance at the AFN board reception for the unveiling of the portrait and frame, as will many family members and close friends.
The long-awaited unveiling comes when the campaign to complete the exhibits at the Morris Thompson Center nears its end. To date, the project has raised more than $28.9 million. An additional $375,000 is needed to finish the exhibits, which includes installation of text panels and completing the final exhibit area that now sits empty.
Information about James Grant, Sr.: James Grant, along with his brother Jay Schrock, was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a California couple from a Fairbanks orphanage. The brothers returned to Alaska in their early 20’s, seeking out their relatives and Native heritage.
Over his artistic career, Grant produced many pieces of public art for display in Alaska, and became internationally known for illustrating two well-known books by Velma Wallis. One of his largest and most recent works, a stained-glass panel, hangs in the new Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. He also worked with the Alaska Native Veterans Association to design a sculpture honoring members of the Alaska Territorial Guard. He has been honored by both Doyon and the Alaska Federation of Natives as a culture bearer for carrying on Native tradition and heritage. (Excerpt from an article by Mary Beth Smetzer in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / April 11, 2010.) Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Information about Moses “Uksuq” Wassilie: The 63-year-old artist grew up in Kwethluk, Alaska, and went on to graduate from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. A familiar name in the Alaska Native art world, Wassilie has exhibited work in such places as St. Mary's School and the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. He has held workshops and residencies around the state, including a stint as an artist-in-residence on a Holland America Line cruise ship. He appeared in Steven Segal's movie "On Deadly Ground," and you can catch his face in old Pontiac, Corona and Korean Airlines commercials. (Excerpt from an article by Cinthia Ritchie in the June/July issue of First Alaskans magazine.)
Incorporated in 2004 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a partnership between the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, Tanana Chiefs Conference Cultural Programs, Alaska Geographic, and Denakkanaaga, an Alaska Native Elders’ organization. Through exhibits and programs, the new 32,720 square foot multi-use facility’s mission is to 1) celebrate Interior Alaska’s people, land and culture, 2) promote economic development via tourism, with an emphasis in rural Alaska, and 3) to be a community gathering place, where diverse cultures come together to understand, appreciate, and respect one another. The Center is open 7 days a week year round, 8am-5pm in the winter, and 8am-9pm in the summer.