Joanne Swanson   »   Kin'ughan

Inupiaq Eskimo

"When will you start painting?" and "Oh yeah . . . I was supposed to start painting . . ." were just two thoughts this Inupiaq Eskimo artist pondered as a child, teenager and young adult. As a young child she knew she would be an artist . . . some day.

"Even as a child I loved the subtleties of color, the smell of crayon and the challenge of drawing."

A reader most of her life, Joanne, now 55, taught herself to paint in watercolor. It began with a desire to present her husband, Chip, a gift on Christmas Day in 1993. Watercolor was chosen in part for its many challenges.

"In retrospect perhaps the greatest challenge was my inability to communicate my frustrations of learning certain techniques, color theory, design, my triumphs in succeeding in learning and just relating to another artist. I still had one foot in the umiak (walrus hide covered boat)."

Joanne was born at a fish camp on the Shaktoolik River Alaska when the salmon berries were ripe. Located on the Norton Sound of the Bearing Sea. The village population was approximately one hundred Inupiaq Eskimo.

"People have said my paintings are full of color, full of joy of life. Because I simply love to paint I can get lost in painting. I continually challenge myself to apply what I have read. I like to push myself to be a better painter."

"Whether it's portraits, landscapes my subjects reflect my Native culture. I love to pick berries so I painted "Betty Spray" a popular giclée print. Someday I would like to wear a walrus tusk designed parka, so I painted an Inupiaq woman wearing one with strings of ivory and Russian trade beads."

For now living in Koyuk, another more interior Norton Sound Village, painting has been relief in more ways than one. Less distraction than if we lived in a city.

Joanne is married to Chip, a minister, mother and a hopeful mentor to Jason Lee Eckels, 21 and Ana Lee Swanson, 8.

Joanne's first husband, Lee Eckles, was an Alaskan bush pilot who was killed in 1980 when Jason was 2.

A 1985 graduate of Alaska Pacific University she believes in life long learning. Besides reading and studying her other interests are sewing, beading, camping, berry picking and traveling on occasion.


Joanne Swanson
P.O. Box 338
Unalakleet, Alaska 99684

Subject Matter of Specialty

Contemporary and traditional Eskimo village scenes, activities and portraits.


Painting in Watercolor.

Published Limited Edition Prints: Four (4)

Published Unlimited Edition Prints: Three (3)


B. A. Elementary Education, 1985 Alaska Pacific University


Shaktoolik, Alaska (Norton Sound village campsite)
July 7th, 1952

Credits & Commitments

Honorable Mention, Inuit Circumpolar Conference's Logo Contest; 2002




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