Story last updated at 9:13 PM on Thursday, July 3, 2008

Art: It's all in family for Senungetuks

Musician daughter, artist parents perform, show at Bunnell center


It sounds like one of those language-system ads. He was an Inupiaq Eskimo from remote Wales, Alaska. She was a glamorous artist from the big city in Oslo. He had one chance to woo her, and so he learned Norwegian.

  Photographer: Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Turid, Ron and Heidi Senungetuk pose outside their Homer home this week. Ron and Turid Senungetuk present a collaborative show of their work beginning Friday at the Bunnell Street Arts Center. Their daughter, violinist Heidi Senungetuk, performs in a solo concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bunnell.  
Actually, it was their mutual love of art that brought Ron Senungetuk and Turid Grotthing together. They met in school at the Statens Handverks og Kunstindustri Skole in Oslo. After Ron graduated and returned to Alaska, she followed him in 1962. The two married that year.

"I've been here ever since," she said.

That lifelong collaboration in life and art can be seen in their show, "Old Traditions, New Traditions," opening Friday at Bunnell Street Arts Center. Their daughter, violinist Heidi Senungetuk, performs in a solo concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bunnell. Admission is $22 general admission and $20 for Bunnell members.

In 1960, Senungetuk, recently graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from the School for American Craftsman at the Rochester Institute of Technology, went to Norway on a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Kunstindustri Skole. Senungetuk had studied Scandinavian design with Danish teachers at RIT.

"They said, 'You must go to Scandinavia," Senungetuk said.

First trained in traditional Inupiaq ivory carving in Wales, he became drawn to Western art at RIT and in Norway an art that nonetheless was steeped in Alaska Native traditions.

"We've had sort of the same understanding value," Turid Senungetuk said, "Native crafts here are very well made. That's something I grew up with things have to be just as good on the back as the front."

Turid Senungetuk has become known for her simple, elegant jewelry designs. Working mostly in silver, in "Old Traditions, New Traditions," she adds a new material: dyed wood. She uses silver maple scraps from Ron Senungetuk's carved relief wood panels.

"On Ron's suggestion, I'm incorporating wood," she said. "This work is experimental. It's investigating something new. When you're having an exhibition, you should do something new."

Ron Senungetuk's work completes a circle started when he started out in traditional Native carving in Wales and later at Mount Edgecumbe School in Sitka. When he returned to Alaska from Norway to take a position at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he came as a teacher of Western art. He soon began teaching Alaska Native art, founding the UAF Arts Center.

Turid Senungetuks pin combines colored wood with silver.  
"My show will still have the basis of Native art, but the best of Native art," he said. "I'm trying to continue that circle where I was dealing mostly with Western art."

Heidi Senungetuk gets asked sometimes about how growing up with artist parents influenced her music a question she said doesn't know how to answer.

"Then this show came up at Bunnell: Wouldn't that be neat if somebody could help me figure the answer out?" she said. "I'm not sure how to answer that myself, but maybe other people can help me."

Senungetuk started with her music in first grade, when her mother signed her up for violin lessons in one of Fairbanks' first Suzuki method programs. Although she tried ballet, pottery, weaving and painting, music is what she stayed with. Now a violinist with the Anchorage Symphony, she has a bachelor of music from Oberlin Conservatory and a master of music from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She has performed at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and returns there next fall for a performance of a new piece for violin and concert marimba by Elliot Miles McKinley with the Anchorage percussionist Steve Alvarez.

Although the daughter of a circumpolar, multicultural marriage, Heidi Senungetuk doesn't emphasize that cross-cultural background.

"We are who we are and we do what we do, and that's how it is," she said.

That's an attitude she might get from her father, who said he's trying "to be an artist without cultural identification," he said

"A lot of people will call you an Eskimo artist," he said. "I'd rather be an artist who happened to be Inupiat."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at