Terresa White, Yup'ik
I experienced Eskimo dancing for the first time in a field in rural Oregon with my Granny, Aunties, Mom, and Cousin. We’d been invited by an acquaintance from the Northwest Inupiaq Dancers to attend their gathering. The drums, songs, and dances lit a circle in the grass around our gathering. They cleared a path to my heart’s home! We danced the closing song with the group—it was my first time dancing, and my thousandth time, I knew it by heart and found myself dancing with my eyes lowered and my vision soaring. I left the gathering inspired to dance and compelled to create.
For years my hands had been itching to make and they saw a path in the traditional, carved wood masks worn by the dancers that day in the field. I joined the dance group after that, found my way to other Alaska Native friends in the Portland and Seattle areas, and soon sculpted my first mask from clay. It was a self-portrait mask, white-faced and wrinkle-eyed, its berry-stained mouth grinning wide.
The transformation masks that followed were born of Yup’ik and other Eskimo stories. They express my understanding of the personhood and interrelationship of all human and non-human beings. Walrus Dance Transformation, my first bronze sculpture, had its inspiration in the powerful masked Walrus Dance I saw performed that day in rural Oregon.