Inspired by the stories of her Chugach Aleut ancestors, Denise Wallace’s unique creations have made her the best-known Alaska Native jeweler of our time. In addition to complex mechanical components like the tiny, working lockets that open to reveal hidden subject matter, Wallace utilizes materials like silver, gold, semiprecious stones and scrimshawed, fossilized ivory to join old traditions and stories with her newly envisioned interpretations. Figures and faces dance and come alive in dazzling belts, earrings, pendants and more.
Wallace began her artistic journey as a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the late 70s. After graduating, she and her husband Samuel remained in Santa Fe creating and selling work from their studio and gallery for 20 years. In 1999, the Wallaces moved from the high desert to the tropics of Hawaii where they continued to collaborate on pieces. In 2010, Denise’s beloved Samuel passed away, but his influence on the couple’s work will forever be felt.
Beyond the indelible imprint that could only be made by the decades long partnership with Samuel, Wallace credits Native American artists such as Allan Houser, John Hoover, Charles Loloma, Roxanne Swentzell and many more as being influential to her work, as well. However, the content of her pieces remain firmly planted in the rich stories and customs of the Native people of arctic Alaska, stories that deal with themes of healing, growth, nature and transformation. “The transformation aspect is what inspired the doors and hinges on my work, Wallace says.
Their work has been the individual focus of many exhibitions, including the traveling exhibition, Arctic Transformations: The Jewelry of Denise and Samuel Wallace organized by the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Anchorage, AK. Among the public collections that include their work: Anchorage Museum of History and Art,; Institute of American Indian Arts, SF, NM; Museum of Arts and Design, NYC; Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA.
My work is a direct reflection on my home, my ancestors and my connection to the world. Along with my husband, we created work that blends our individual interests and knowledge. We have encouraged our children to find their way along this path of creativity and connections as well.