Alaska Folk Festival Posters

Artist Bill Hudson designed a dozen original posters for the annual Alaska Folk Festival between 1984 and 1999. His often whimsical designs were originally hand-printed by the artist himself in very limited editions, using various silkscreen techniques.

11th Annual Alaska Folk Festival

I distinctly remember that my wife, Clarissa, was out of town. Normally Clarissa and I bounced our artistic ideas off each other, but this particular spring, Clarissa was in Haines at a gathering of apprentice Chilkat Blanket weavers.  I was back in Juneau, scratching my head and trying to come up with some kind of artistic image that said, simply “Alaskan Folk Music.”

11th Alaska Folk Festival

I had been admiring photographs of Eskimo “spirit masks” at the Juneau Library in recent months. I thought these masks were incredibly inventive, with the central image of a face, surrounded by a halo of sticks and an array of small, detached body parts, symbols, and feathers.  Coming from a barren part of Alaska where trees were practically non-existent but where feathers were plentiful, these masks seemed to make perfect sense in terms of judicious use of materials, and inventive design. That the masks were religiously inspired and meant to evoke animal spirits — Inuat — definitely added to the magic.

Suddenly the design appeared: the Spirit of Music.  I remember calling Clarissa (long-distance) and telling her, “I can’t wait to show this to you.”  I was sure she would approve.

13th Annual Alaska Folk Festival

Life in Juneau, Alaska can be really depressing — in a temperate rain forest that boasts 320 days a year of overcast, raining, or snowing skies. Yeah, sure, the landscape is covered with moisture-loving plant life and the streams and rivers run full and swift… but the weather can just plain be depressing for human beings. The overall color tends toward shades of gray… even the noble spruce-and-hemlock forests take on a gray cast.

13th annual Alaska Folk Festival

One way people survive in this land is by keeping a ready sense of humor handy. Another way is by dressing in colorful clothes and cultivating a slightly outlandish personality.  I personally wore a lot of Hawaiian shirts. The shirts had images of surfers and palm trees and hula dancers, not exactly the type of regional sights you’d typically come across in Juneau, Alaska.

What kind of Hawaiian shirt would a polar bear wear?  I wondered…

14th Annual Alaska Folk Festival

This was my fifth poster for the Alaska Folk Festival. While researching ideas at the Juneau library, overlooking the beautiful Gatineau Channel, I came across a book of totem poles — old black & white photos of classic poles from around the Northwest Coast.

I was struck by one pole in particular, which included a Frog emerging from a Bear’s mouth.

14th annual Alaska Folk Festival

Totem poles are so named because they include “totem” animals of the clans they represent. They were traditionally carved from the monumental trees that thrive in the Northwest Coast’s temperate rain forest. Often, smaller animals and human beings appear to be climbing on top of, or out of, the mouths, ears or eyes of the larger characters. Human beings and animals exist in an absurdly harmonious synthesis of body parts.

Totem poles are, at heart, historical monuments; each one tells an important story about the clan they represent. At the same time, they are a visual reminder of how all life is interconnected.

I think of this particular totem pole as representing your typical Alaska Folk Festival band — a collection of musical misfits who somehow fit perfectly together.

17th Annual Alaska Folk Festival

This was my eighth poster for the Alaska Folk Festival.

One of the most important cultural events among the indigenous tribes of the Northwest Coast was the “potlatch.” These extravagant, multi-day parties included feasting and giving of gifts, and often left the host bankrupt — but well-respected.

17th Alaska Folk Festival

Northwest Coast canoes were carved in one piece, usually from massive red cedar trees that were hollowed out and then steamed and bent into an elegant, seaworthy shape… and then painted with totemic designs.

This canoe might have represented a party arriving at a potlatch party from another village in the archipelago of emerald islands scattered along the coast from Seattle to Sitka.

Except, of course, that the paddles are a bit non-traditional.

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