Nathan P. Jackson

2009 Distinguished ArtistFolk & Traditional ArtsAward Amount: $25,000

2009 Distinguished Artist

Nathan Jackson is a Tlingit carver, best known for his dramatic cedar totem poles. He was born and raised in Southeast Alaska and is a member of the Sockeye Clan of the Chilkoot Tlingit. After serving in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper, Jackson studied graphic design and silk screen at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For most of his adult life, Jackson has been a freelance artist, creating panels, totem poles, masks and other carvings for private collectors, museums and public art projects in the United States, Europe, and Japan. He works primarily in wood and with traditional tools. He carefully selects, prepares and shapes cedar, alder and maple into forms inspired by his Tlingit heritage.

Rasmuson Foundation funding helped Jackson pay his expenses so he could focus on personal projects rather than commissions. In preparing for the Distinguished Artist Award nomination he wrote, “I stay with the traditional subject matter for my work, that is, clan crests and clan stories. If someone wants their pet cat or dog on their totem pole, they will have to find someone else … It means a lot to me to be able to carry on the same carving traditions as the old masters. I want to ensure that the traditional art forms do not get lost.”

His artwork is in display in every major museum in Alaska as well as spots around the world: Horniman Museum in London; Overseas Museum in Bremen, Germany; North American Native Museum in Zurich, Switzerland; and at two locations in Japan. In 1995 Jackson received a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award.

Jackson is known for his generosity and his enthusiasm for sharing Tlingit arts. Many successful carvers started their careers apprenticing for him.