BSNC’s Career Pathways Series helps showcase jobs held by successful shareholders and descendants. This series aims to raise awareness of these career options and the essential skills needed to succeed in these positions.
Susan Ringstad Emery is a renowned contemporary Native artist whose works vary in style from cave-art-inspired mixed media on panel to three-dimensional traditional depictions of landscapes and the Alaskan village life of her ancestors through various mediums including drawing, oil, acrylic, watercolor, printmaking and pastel. She is influenced by her culture, family, the beauty of nature and her maternal Iñupiat grandfather Teddy Sockpick, whose art was expressed through his skilled scrimshaw etchings, and her paternal Swedish grandmother Florence Selberg-Ringstad, who placed a high priority on the arts and enjoyed working in watercolors.
“ There is room for Inupiaq artists to share our beautiful culture at home in Alaska and around the world. ”
Emery’s artwork has been exhibited at Grand Central Terminal NYC, Peabody Essex Museum, Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, Seattle Municipal Tower, National Nordic Heritage Museum and corporate and private collections around the world. Her work is in the permanent collection at the Nordic Museum, Seattle.
Emery is a BSNC shareholder and an enrolled tribal member of the Native Village of Shishmaref. Her Iñupiat name is Ahnoaq after her grandmother Holly Sockpick (née Nayokpuk).
What type of training was helpful to become an artist?
Susan Ringstad Emery:
“I had some significant barriers to getting my art education. Time was my greatest challenge. With young kids at home, and a conviction to do the best job raising them as I could, together with my husband John who worked long days at his job, I was not able to go to school very far from home or attend full-time.
I took one class at a time at our local community college while keeping the kids as my priority. I was happy that I could take classes there in the evenings. Except for a break, while our beautiful baby fought a miraculous and successful battle with cancer, I was able to complete my degree by taking one class per quarter.
None of the scholarship programs at the time supported taking a single course at a time, so I paid for my classes out of pocket with money my late grandfather Ringstad left to me. I use my maiden name as part of my artist trade name to honor how he made it possible to get my education. In 2013, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA with an Associate in Fine Arts degree.”
What other considerations do you have for young Alaska Native people interested in pursuing an art career?
Susan Ringstad Emery:
• “I suggest you have a fallback or supplementary income source, especially for the early years when establishing your art practice.
• Being an artist is not always about making nice-looking images. Many art calls are themed around social justice, politics, societal ills, or other issues.
• Ask yourself if you are a self-starter. Being an artist is a strange blend of being both solitary and social. An artist works alone a lot, but also sometimes must have spurts of social interaction at art events and gatherings.
• Pairing an art degree with another degree can be a good idea, for example, an Architecture degree with a minor in art could be the perfect combination for being extremely competitive in public art.
• There is room for Inupiaq artists to share our beautiful culture at home in Alaska and around the world. Our treasured Indigenous design styles and other art forms are underrepresented in the greater field of the arts.”