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By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Charlie Skultka Jr., one of eight individuals and organizations chosen for the Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards, doesn’t particularly consider his creations — in a variety of forms — as “art.”
“I feel like, if I’m up a creek, I may need a paddle so I might make one; if I want to play music, I might make a drum; if I’m cold, I might need a blanket, so I’ll make that,” Skultka said.
But School District Superintendent Mary Wegner found Skultka’s contributions to local schools so significant she nominated him for the Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Alaska Native Arts and Languages. He will be recognized by Gov. Walker at the arts and humanities awards ceremony in Anchorage in early February.
“We appreciate his work partnering with teachers and working with students,” Wegner said. “He’s made a significant effort to infuse Alaska Native arts and culture into our activities. He’s a great addition.”
School District cultural director Nancy Douglas, who also worked on the nomination, agreed.
“He’s more than deserving,” Douglas said. “Without Charlie, we wouldn’t be as advanced as we are with Northwest Coast art in our district.”
Skultka, 53, has been an artist most of his life. He has worked as a demonstration artist for the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center at Sitka National Historical Park, and is currently the traditional arts specialist for the Sitka Native Education Program, co-sponsored by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka School District.
The statement announcing the Margaret Nick Cook Award says Skultka has demonstrated his artistic skills and “helped celebrate, honor and preserve Alaska Native culture.”
“Charlie is known and respected for this work and his passion for Alaska Native art, which sees him partnering with teachers to incorporate Native Arts into learning activities for all students. Charlie has guided first-graders in creating their own personal drums for use in learning how to count, know the syllables in words, and to learn and perform Native songs and dances.”
Over the years Skultka has worked in ivory, argulite, wood, ceramics, plastic, cedar, spruce root, leather, glass, bone, sandcasting, bronze, brass, aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, gold, silver, oil, acrylic and airbrush — and probably a few others that don’t come to mind immediately, he said.
As a teen Skultka learned carving from Reggie Peterson, and later passed on skills to kids in a master apprentice program at the Sitka National Historical Park.
He said the effort to get Native arts and culture into the schools has been a collaboration between the school district and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. In the current climate of tightening budgets, cooperation is needed between the two entities to keep the programs going in the schools, he said.
“Our children really need these hands-on types of things,” Skultka said. “It helps them be better in our society.”
Skultka, who used to work building boats for Allen Marine, said the skills he teaches in arts and culture lessons translate well into the workplace, since many pupils are learning handy vocational skills in his classes, which might be sewing, carving or operating the computer-operated 3-D printer and computer-operated router in the Sitka High vocational education wing. Skultka has spent time working with all ages, in every school in the district.
He said he was surprised and pleased with the award, and thanked those who have supported him over the years, including organizations, mentors and his family.
“I had no idea anybody was paying attention to what I was doing,” he said. “I’ve been threatening to retire for the past two or three years. But every time I was thinking about it, something like this happens, or a student will come up to me and remind me why I do this.”
He said he also enjoys being a positive role model for students.
The Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards program is a partnership among the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and the Office of the Governor to “recognize and honor noteworthy contributions to the arts and humanities in Alaska.”