Tribal Affiliation: Haida/Lakota
Sheldon Skillie was born in Mountainview, CA in 1973. His father is Kaigani Haida, from Hydaburg, Alaska and his mother was Ogallala Lakota, from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Growing up in Seattle, WA, Sheldon was interested in all forms of art as far back as he can remember, including break dancing, old school rap, classic rock, heavy metal music and graffiti. He was also exposed to native art and culture, and was haunted by a visit to Bill Reid's "Raven And The First Men", one of his earliest memories. Sheldon later learned that he was related to Reid. At the age of ten, Sheldon moved to Ketchikan, AK, to the home of his Nana and Chinna, both Haida people who spoke the Haida language fluently. The walls of their home were adorned with a collection of Native artwork. Sheldon's Nana was Charles Edenshaw's daughter. It was in her home that much of Sheldon's knowledge of Haida art and culture began.
Sheldon attended Portland State University in 1995 for Fine Arts, but soon dropped out to pursue a Masters Degree in odd jobs - from oil refinery labor in California to horizontal jackhammering in Alaska, signmaking, cooking, pumping gas, house painting, house cleaning, various construction labor jobs, fish processing and so on. He continued to educate himself and develop his personal style as an artist during this time, in mediums such as oil pastel, colored pencil, pen and ink, and acrylic paint.
In 2002, Norman Jackson (Tlingit), asked Sheldon to participate in an apprenticeship at his studio gallery in Ketchikan, AK. Sheldon learned about formline design, having been tasked with painting Norman's predrawn designs directly onto his masks. He also learned about carving masks from alder, birch, and cedar. In 2003, Sheldon was asked by Donald Varnell (Haida) to apprentice on a 22 foot totem pole to be placed at the Ketchikan Indian Community Health Clinic. Though shortlived, this apprenticeship would clarify his understanding of the refinements of Haida Art, as Don Varnell carries the tradition of meticulous, flowing designs, and intricate, complex sculptural harmony. These invaluable experiences with two master artists of the northwest coast laid a foundation for Sheldon's ultramodern Haida design style. He continued to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and teachers, adhered to a rigorous and uncompromising discipline, and began to flourish in a fusion of abstract expressionism and classic northwest coast design.
"What I'm contributing [to Haida art] is my tribute to its legacy of complex, evolved design theory, monumental expression of motif, dynamic compositional tradition, and vivid use of color and form. I want to paint the look of the sound of urban rhythm, to explore the modern relation of urban Native experience to ancient indigenous lineage." -Sheldon Skillie
All images copyright © Stonington Gallery or ZensPhoto.