The artists who made the collection of Native Alaskan dolls featured here are from southwestern Alaska, primarily from the town of Chevak near the Bering Sea. The dolls often are created to show an activity like gathering berries or performing a traditional dance. Rosalie Paniyak of Chevak followed her mother’s example by making dolls and began making activity dolls to sell in the 1950s. These became known as “ugly face dolls” because of the humorous expressions on her sewn sealskin faces. Widely recognized for her talents, Rosalie Paniyak shared her techniques and style with her daughter Ursula Paniyak and inspired many of the other Chevak area artists. The dolls are made using cotton fabrics and scraps of animal skins that are legally harvested or “caught” by the Alaska Native hunters to use for food and handicraft. We obtained our collection of Native Alaskan dolls through the assistance of the Anchorage Museum.
For interesting reading about Alaska Native dolls, see Not Just a Pretty Face: Dolls and Human Figurines in Alaska Native Cultures (edited by Molly Lee) and Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity by Susan Fair.