Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk
Artist Who Broke Gender and Racial Barriers
June 19, 2020
St. Lawrence Island Yupik artist Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk was born in 1906 in Sivuqaq/Gambell and began drawing as a child. She later pursued a career as an artist, depicting scenes of everyday life in her village on paper, canvas, and skin.
Florence gained recognition as an artist at a time when gender discrimination and racism presented major barriers to professional success. Her work reflects her experience of the people, animals, and social customs of St Lawrence Island during a time of pivotal change, providing a lasting testament to her tenacity and drive to document the world around her.
In a letter to University of Alaska Fairbanks president Charles Bunnell, Florence described some of the challenges she faced as an artist: “…it is sometimes very hard to draw in the agra, our winter houses, because we just have the light of three seal oil lamps and I have to lay on the floor, which is made from walrus hide, and my eyes hurt me sometimes.” She often struggled to obtain supplies to create her artwork.
Did you know Florence Napaaq Malewotkuk and have a story you’d like to share about her? We’d love to know more about her and about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming exhibition and be sure to check back for new #ExtraToughWomenAK posts.
Image credit: Steve McCutcheon Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1990.14.5.AKNative.2.8 and B1990.14.5.People.3.42; Ward Wells Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1983.91.S1867.C41