Ghhúunayúkata / To Keep Them Warm: The Alaska Native Parka

Ghhúunayúkata / To Keep Them Warm: The Alaska Native Parka

May 21, 2023 12:00 am
April 7, 2024 12:00 am
Museum of International Folk Art

These unique garments embody the remarkable creativity, craftsmanship, and innovation of their makers, past and present. As complex cultural expressions, parkas are at once innovative and traditional, a garment that harmoniously marries artistry, function, cultural meaning, and Indigenous ingenuity.

At the heart of the exhibition are 20 parkas representing 6 Alaska Native communities: Yup’ik, Iñupiaq, Unangan, Dena’ina, Koyukon, and St. Lawrence Island Yupik. The selection includes parkas from the mid-19th century to contemporary reinterpretations of this iconic garment, illustrating the continuing vitality of this art form.

A rich selection of Indigenous drawings, photographic portraits, and traditional dolls will provide context for how parkas are worn in ceremony, hunting, and daily use. These works underscore Native self-representation and the parka’s importance as a cultural signifier. Sewing tools, themselves beautiful works of craftsmanship in walrus ivory, wood, or animal hide, round out the exhibition content.

The exhibition will open May 21, 2023, and is organized by guest co-curators Suzi Jones, PhD, and Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna/Paiute).

Short promotional video of the exhibition may be found at:

Left: Fancy parka (Iñupiaq), ca. 1890. Arctic ground squirrel, wolf fur, wolverine fur, calfskin, wool. Museum of International Folk Art, gift of Louis Criss. Photo: Addison Doty. Center: Lena Atti (Kayuungiar) (Yup’ik), Qasperrluk (Fish skin parka), 2007. Salmon skin. Anchorage Museum Collection. Photo: Chris Arend. Right: Detail of ceremonial seal gut parka (St. Lawrence Island Yupik), early 20th century. Seal gut, auklet crests, seal fur, cormorant feathers, cotton thread, red ocher. Museum of International Folk Art, gift of Lloyd E. Cotsen, Neutrogena Corp. Photo: Addison Doty.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, and is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.