Like other painters, Ruth Nashookpuk uses canvas as a foundation. But when she’s done, Nashookpuk can lace up her work and apply it to her other passion: basketball.
Nike Air Forces, Air Jordans and Vans have all supplied “canvas” for Nashookpuk’s colorful paintings. A recent pair of Vans sported bright renditions of Bugs and Lola, the Tune Squad cartoon rabbits from the movie “Space Jam.”
Nashookpuk, an art and business double? major, comes from Naknek, a village on the shores of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. While she always enjoyed drawing, UAF has introduced her to new techniques. “Then I did painting, and it stuck,” she said.
A friend suggested she apply the paint to shoes. It fit well with her other fixation.
“If I didn’t play basketball, I’d lose my mind,” she said. “I’m at the SRC (Student Recreation Center) all the time.”
Nashookpuk plays in UAF’s intramural leagues, where she fills whatever post is needed. “Sometimes I’m the tallest; sometimes I’m the shortest,” she said.
She played on her high school team in Naknek.
Naknek is in Southwest Alaska’s traditional Yupik country, but Nashookpuk describes her ancestry as “100 percent Inupiaq.” Her paternal grandfather preferred the warmer climate of Naknek to his home village of Point Hope on Alaska’s northwest coast. So, he moved south in 1969.
Nashookpuk’s father met her mother, who is from the northern village of Unalakleet, at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, a town in far Southeast Alaska. The couple then moved back to Naknek. Nashookpuk’s father works at the Alaska Commercial Co. store and both parents fish for salmon with net set off the beach in the summer.
Nashookpuk, now 21, came to UAF after attending the Rural Alaska Honors Institute on the Fairbanks campus one summer. “It really prepared me for college,” she said.
She has lived in on-campus housing each of her three years and said she enjoys the “super diverse” environment.
“You see new people every day,” she said.