We can’t imagine a more beautiful, meaningful and optimistic way to welcome the New Year than with the unveiling of this magnificent collaboration by two of Stonington Gallery’s finest: Thomas Stream and Scott Jensen. This work was kept a secret from the Stonington staff as the hat passed between the artists over the course of a few years, and it was a delightful surprise to us all. Stream and Jensen delivered it to the gallery just before Christmas, and it made this holiday a particularly joyful and meaningful one. For both Thomas Stream and Scott Jensen, there are few objects from the ancient Pacific Northwest Coast that inspire more awe and respect than the Aleut Hunting Hats.
For Thomas Stream, these noble hats embody the resourcefulness, skill, spirituality and artistry of his people, the Sun’aq Aleut. The Aleutian Island archipelago stretches twelve hundred miles from the southwest corner of Alaska, across the Bering Sea to Russia. The Aleutians are a volcanic chain linking North America to Asia and consist of three hundred islands. The islands are as beautiful as they are remote. They are windswept and barren, with most vegetation growing no higher than twelve inches. It can take a tree two hundred years to reach a height of five feet. Most everything that sustained the Aleut came from the sea, and what came from the sea was fished or hunted by men in their bidarkas or kayaks. Survival depended upon a successful hunt and the Bering Sea/ North Pacific poses formidable risks.
Years ago Jensen learned the painstaking technique of crafting these hats from Bill Holm. Jensen is recognized as one of the few masters of the technique, which is one of the most difficult in Northwest Coast art. Unlike bending a box–which bends at straight angles–the hat must be bent in a bowed arc, an unnatural angle for a piece of wood. The ends must be brought together and meet perfectly at the back of the hat, while staying symmetrical. The wood must be planed extremely thinly in the areas where the lines bend, and this can lead to the hat splitting. After making four hats that did not come out, Jensen was finally able to bend the fifth without breaking.
Once he had the hat in hand, Stream created a full paper replica of the hat, showing the octopus and crab designs painted on it. He emailed this to Jensen, to show him the finalized design before painting. The spot prawn, Giant Pacific Octopus and Dungeness Crab are iconic Pacific Ocean sea creatures. Their natural ranges–from northern California to the Aleutian Islands–overlap, and they are all hunters as well as the hunted. They are perfect imagery for a sea hunter’s hat. Jensen acquired the trade beads from fellow artist Janet Walker, and they are types that would have been traded along the North Pacific coast in the past.