Contemporary Athabascan mask-maker Kathleen Carlo was born in 1952 and was raised in Fairbanks, AK. She began making her artwork in 1978 at the University of Alaska’s Native Arts Center in Fairbanks with teacher Ron Senungetuk. She soon after participated in a maskmaking workshop at the Center that brought together six master carvers to inspire and teach eight emerging students. Carlo was one of two women at the workshop, and felt supported and encouraged by the other mask-makers to improve and make her mark on the artform. The workshop culminated in Alaskameut ’86, a juried exhibition of contemporary masks in which Carlo took part.
Carlo received a BFA in Metalsmithing from the University of Alaska, but considers herself a woodworker as well. She enjoys contrasting the warmth of wood with the hard, cold edges of metal, and combing the two to create striking contrasts. Carlo’s modern artwork sometimes symbolizes an event or spirit, other times it is just what comes out of the shape of the wood. Many of her masks make use of non-traditional objects. Having led a subsistence life—raised eating salmon and moose meat—Carlo’s inclusion of bullet casings connotes the presence of humans in the more spiritual world of the mask. She often places Mexican milagros—charms bought outside a church that represent a problem or ill in one’s life—in the mouths of her masks, as if they are speaking of their woes and praying (or telling stories) to overcome them.
Her works are seen in the collections of the University of Alaska State Museum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Contemporary Art Bank, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Doyon Limited, and numerous private collections in and outside Alaska. She is currently working on commissions for the new Native Hospital in Fairbanks, the Cancer Center and the Fairbanks Cultural Center.