Ron Senungetuk came from a small village at the westernmost tip of mainland Alaska, but he’s seen a great deal of the wider world during a career that has made him one of the state’s most well-known artists.
Senungetuk, born in the village of Wales, attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He then headed for Norwegian State Art and Industry School in Oslo to study sculpture and metalsmithing as a Fulbright scholar in the early 1960s.
In Norway, he met his future wife, Turid, a fellow artist who followed him home to Alaska. Senungetuk joined the art faculty at UAF, and, in 1965, he founded the Native Arts Center. He retired as head of the Art Department in 1986.
During that time and in the years since, he developed an international reputation.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate his importance,” said fellow UAF Professor Emeritus Kes Woodward in 2014. “He’s not only almost certainly the most widely exhibited Alaskan artist, really the dean of all Alaska artists, but has been a mentor to generations of both Native artists and non-Native artists.”
While his art often draws on his cultural roots, Senungetuk has expressed some reluctance to be identified solely as an Alaska Native artist. In 2008, he told a reporter he was trying "to be an artist without cultural identification.”
"A lot of people will call you an Eskimo artist," he said. "I'd rather be an artist who happened to be Inupiat."
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