Alaska Native artist gets Paris exhibition

Margy Johnson | May 31, 2011

Spring returns to Alaska; geese make their squawking, beautiful appearance, followed by shore birds, herring and then -- the grand daddy of springtime -- salmon return to the Great Land.

In the international world of art, these same early weeks of Spring are packed ones. From London, to Hong Kong, Park Avenue and Madrid, discerning eyes turn toward Paris. The art season begins, with great flourish and fanfare.

Just as surely as Alaskans await the return of salmon, art lovers await the gallery openings on the Left Bank.

So there he was, the Russian son of Kodiak and the Alutiiq, graciously answering questions for the media. The cameras were everywhere; this was the night that stars came out. This is what the art world had been waiting for. Perry Eaton, Alaska Native artist. Perry didn’t travel to Paris alone…oh no! He had an entourage of Alaskans in tow.

Count me as a groupie. I was present to watch history unfold -- an Alaska native artist, solo exhibition, opening day of the art season, in Paris.

There were many of us from Alaska, and each of us had our own reasons for being there and had made the long, winding journey on our own.

Everything about Perry’s muliti-faceted life led to him having an exhibition in Paris: his devotion to culture and to detail, his pride in his heritage.

A growing interest, an irrepressible talent

There is no doubt that interest in the art of American Indians and Alaska Natives is budding on the international art scene, and artists like Perry are leading the way. He not only creates the art, but he is able to convey the feelings behind the art.

Margy Johnson photo
Posters like this one, advertising the opening day for galleries all along the Left Bank, were plastered throughout Paris.

Margy Johnson photo
Some of Eaton's work on display. At the bottom is an invitation to the gallery opening.

Perry’s work was displayed along with the work of photographer Edward Curtis. It was beautifully hung in a gallery that knows how to do justice to the creations. Alas, I do not speak French, but I could see the appreciation and admiration for the art on the faces of the hundreds who came on opening day.

The famed Left Bank. The long street in front of the galleries was closed to traffic. Red carpet had been installed. I felt like royalty, gliding down the carpet, to the gallery. This was a very big deal. A major event. Musicians filled the air with soft sounds, people were elegantly attired. Oh yes, this was the perfect place for one of my grandest hats! It really was.

The Orenda art gallery -- at the foot of the Musée d’Orsay -- is within walking distance of Musée du Quai Branly and the Louvre. The gallery owners, Joelle and Nicolas Rostenkowski have created one of the leading Parisian galleries. They have traveled extensively and been exposed to various artistic traditions in many different countries and based Gallery Orenda on the concepts of confluence and cross-influences between contemporary arts from a variety of origins.

There will be an opening of their daughter Edith Laure Rostkowski’s jewelry, later in Anchorage at the Artique. The Rostkowskis want to spend some time in Alaska, especially Sitka.

Perry Eaton is modest about his accomplishments. I, however, am not! Before I left Alaska for Paris I was telling friends: “I am going to Paris for the art show of Perry Eaton.” No one seemed to know who Perry was. One young lady said: “Oh, you mean, Kim’s dad?” I relayed that story to Perry, and he beamed with pride. “That is how you measure success,” Perry said, “in the accomplishments of your children.”

After the days of the opening, Alice Rogoff hosted a party for the Alaskans who had made the trip. There were more than 20 of us, the wine flowed freely, and the culinary creations of Eleanor Andrews and Jane Angvik were admired before they were devoured. The friendship of Alaskans! I cherish each of them!

I once asked an ivory carver from Barrow how he could create such exquisite birds from a piece of fossilized walrus ivory. He thought about the question and replied, “The bird is already there, I simply chip away at the surroundings and the bird shows itself.”