Native Alaskan artists amaze Strawberry Park |

Native Alaskan artists amaze Strawberry Park

Carolyn Pope

Anyone who is familiar with the Vail Symposium embraces the eclectic and stimulating programs they offer. From political discourses and debates, the arts, architecture and foreign films, the organization never lacks for topics that inspire conversation and the possibility of a good, friendly argument.

On Sunday, the Symposium collaborated with the Alaska Native Arts Foundation to bring a touch of the North to Beaver Creek.

Alice and David Rubenstein opened their home to share their love of Alaskan native arts. Their spectacular Strawberry Park home is the perfect backdrop for museum quality art, from original photographs taken of the indigenous people to the delicately woven textiles, intricately carved ivory masks and jewelry, to large carved stone or wood sculptures.

Many of the items were for sale, raising funds for the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization that attempts to raise the profile of indigenous Alaskan arts and support these artists by marketing and selling their work. This promotes artistic development and education, encourages cultural and economic sustainability.

Raising awareness of native Alaskan art is a passion for Alice Rubenstein.

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“I got lucky with some guardian angel,” she said. “I was introduced to the villages by a pilot for Alaska Airlines. Being “white folks’, everyone came out from the villages to meet us.”

Her eyes dance when she talks about her discoveries, like a child who accidentally came across hidden treasures in the attic. She raved about one of the speakers, William “Willy” Iggiagruk Hensley, an Inupiag Eskimo and president emeritus of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Hensley grew up in a sod house in Kotzebue, Alaska.

“The sod house was very warm during the winter. We were a barter community, living in tents during the summer, and moving back to the sod houses in the fall,” Hensley said. “I was raised with a great love of the land.”

Hensley went on to spend 10 years in the legislature, and was instrumental in getting land claims settled, allotting some 44 million acres of land to native Eskimos. He was joined in the lecture by Susie Qummiqsak Bevins, also an Inupiag Eskimo and artist, and Julie Kitka, a Chugach Eskimo and president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Seen at the event: Rita and Scott Skelton, Melissa MacDonald, Kathy Cook, Marianne Cruikshank, Nancy Inman, and Kelly and Sam Bronfman.

For more information on the Symposium, call 970-476-0954, or visit For more information on native Alaskan art, visit

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