Alaska Native artist Ruth Nashookpuk creates a home away from home at UAF
When it came to choosing where to go to college, the University of Alaska Fairbanks was the first choice for Ruth Nashookpuk. UAF had everything she was looking for—a vibrant Alaska Native art program and the campus that many of her soon to be lifelong friends were attending.
Ruth enjoyed playing basketball, and during high school she played on the Bristol Bay Angels girls basketball team. When a ligament injury sidelined her during her freshman year, she started focusing on what she enjoyed doing when she was younger, which was drawing and playing the piano.
"I was tired of being glum about not being able to play basketball," said Ruth. "So that year I started making all the posters for sports teams that were coming in for tournaments. That's when I found out that I really enjoyed art."
Now the 20-year-old college junior is an art major, although she still plays basketball and considers herself to be a better player than she was in high school.
After recovering from her injury, she continued playing sports in high school.
"A lot of people told me how hard it would be to recover after tearing my ACL," said Ruth. "That gave me the motivation to bounce back and get back on the court. I was determined, and it was worth it." In her senior year, her team placed second at the 2A state basketball tournament.
Ruth enjoys exploring different mediums of artistic expression. She is a talented cake decorator and enjoys a new hobby of painting on white canvas shoes. Last year, she took her second year of drawing and her first classes in ceramics and Alaska Native carving.
"I didn't know how to carve at all, until I took a class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks," she said. "Carving was amazing! I had always seen my dad and uncles carve. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I got a couple nice pieces from that class. I am having a hard time deciding which type of art I want to focus on."
She chose an art major because she wants younger generations to know that Alaska Native art is thriving.
"I'm putting my own nontraditional spin on traditional Alaska Native art," said Ruth. "I want art to be fun for everyone. I enjoy creating pieces that are unique."
Ruth is an alumna of UAF's Rural Alaska Honors Institute and other early college programs. She receives scholarships from the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the Bristol Bay Education Development Corp. and several other entities. She is also a regular at Rural Student Services, where she says she receives a lot of support and help.
Ruth encourages other Alaska Native and rural students to consider attending UAF, because it is just right — not too crowded and not too overwhelming.
"Don't be scared," said Ruth. "You are going to have support at UAF, no matter what. I have met so many new friends and made my own little family. I came from a town of 800 and from a graduating class of eight students. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You just have to put yourself out there."
Image courtesy of Ruth Nashookpuk.