Thomas Stream

Thomas Stream

Tribal Enrollment Number: BIA: ANCSA Enrollment #13-741-35895-01

Aleut artist Thomas Stream was born in Kodiak, AK in 1941. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish School of Allied Arts in 1976.

Thomas Stream’s paintings pay homage to his Aleut ancestors and their traditions.  The Aleut have lived on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands for thousands of years.  The Aleutian Islands are an archipelago of islands which extend deeply into the North Pacific. To their north lies the Bering Sea.  The land is made up of primarily rock and sand with little vegetation.

Stream’s vivacious animals wear traditional Aleutian hunting hats. These represent nobility and status within Aleut society. The visors have been made out of steam-bent driftwood for millennia, serving both to shade the hunter’s face in his kayak and to spiritually connect the hunter to his prey. The shape of the visor echoes the Aleutian kayaks. In Stream’s iconography these visors celebrate the individual spirit of each animal, while connecting them to the Aleut people, who share the same environment.

The hats were then seamed up the back with gut and adorned with carved ivory, sea lion whiskers, bird feathers and Russian trade beads. Older hats from the 18th and nineteenth century are some of the rarest artifacts from the pre-contact period and fetch a high price at auction.  Stream also uses color and line to represent his love and respect for his heritage. Many of Stream’s paintings are produced as a limited edition. Stream paints each one and numbers the work with his own numbering system.  The hats were worn for practical purposes, to protect from sun and rain, but also worn for ceremonial purposes.  The Aleuts spent a large part of their time at sea in kayaks. These hats were designed for their protection.

He began the Aleutian Painting series in 1996, an exploration of natural forms, vivid colors and delicate patterns. This series is encapsulated by the phrase, “We are still here,” a simple—yet poignant and powerful—statement that sums up Stream’s outlook on his heritage and his artwork. The paintings in this show are continuations of this series.

Stream’s paintings make use of geometric designs and pointillist dots. At first glance, these dots and lines simply add depth to a jay’s wing or an orca’s tail. However, these spiraling forms are cultural techniques to visualize time and space—the addition of which lend a longevity and immortality to their subjects.

“The images illustrate humility and honor to a unique group of people. I utilize the creatures of the sky, sea, and earth to depict the wonderful wittiness, strength, playfulness, sensitivity, power and sorrow of the Aleuts and their environment.”

                                                             —Thomas Stream