Photo courtesy of the Kodiak Alutiiq Museum

The Kodiak Alutiiq Museum has expanded its collection by 11 watercolor paintings. The paintings are portraits of 19th-century Alutiiq/Sugpiaq people, and were created by Sugpiaq artist Cheryl Lacy. 

Lacy’s set of 11 portraits is titled “Our Ancestors” and reinterprets works done by Mikhail Tikhanov. Tikhanov was a Russian artist from Saint Petersburg who came to Kodiak in 1818. 

“Tikhanov’s portraits are some of the oldest images of our ancestors,” said Alutiiq Museum Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller. “He painted individuals in great detail, capturing their facial features, clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, jewelry, and tools. He even recorded some of the people’s names and the places they were from. Unfortunately, many of his paintings show the same person from two perspectives — a front view and a side view — as if they were scientific specimens. They are an artifact of the colonial era.” 

The museum commissioned Lacy to repaint Tikhanov’s portraits without the colonial lens, and Lacy restyled the portraits, combining front and side views of each person into a three-quarter view and adding scenic backgrounds based on where each subject had originally lived. It took Lacy five months to complete the set. 

“These paintings will help us share the faces of actual ancestors in many ways,” said Counceller. “Cheryl is talented at capturing people and she used bright colors, living landscapes, and large canvases to bring our relatives to life. Her portraits are stunning.” 

The museum will show these watercolors in the new living culture gallery next May. Some of the paintings will also be included in a coming book on contemporary Alutiiq art that is currently being developed. 


The commission was paid for by a $15,500 grant from the Alaska Art Fund. The Alaska Art Fund is administered by Museums Alaska with support from the Rasmuson Foundation.