Alaska Artists: Henry Wood Elliott

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

As conservationists and people who care deeply for animals and wildlife, we created Alaskan Nature to  provide educational information about the flora and fauna of the great state of Alaska. With both our written information and our stunning photos, Alaskan Nature hopes to inspire people in appreciating and understand the true beauty of Alaska Nature.

The United States acquired  the Alaska territory in 1867, and in only twenty years revenues from the Pribilof Island fur seal harvest paid off the 7.2 million dollar purchase price. Henry Wood Elliott, an artist and naturalist  produced some of the earliest images of the Pribilof fur seal harvest, wrote the first detailed account of the northern fur seal's life history, and who many regard him as the man who saved the northern fur seal from extinction.

Henry Elliott, one of the first American artists to work in Alaska, assisted the public in visualizing an animal and a way of life that most people had never seen. They sparked conservation sentiment that led to the recognition of the fur seal as a valuable renewable resource that needed protection.

The fur seals, however, were not the only subjects Elliott painted. Alaska's Native people and their activities spurred his imagination. Elliott expressed his views on Alaska's Native people in his best-selling travel book, Our Arctic Province. Like many late 19th century artists, Elliott stereotypes his Native subjects, using them as picturesque features to draw attention to often spectacular landscape scenery, and focuses primarily on the activities and cultural settings of his subjects in an attempt to record a vanishing lifestyle

A Cleveland native, Elliott first visited Alaska in 1867 with the Western Union Telegraph Survey, just two years before serving as official artist for F.V. Hayden's U.S. Geological Survey expedition to the western United States.

He was sent north again in 1872 as U.S. Treasury Agent supervising the Alaska Commercial Company's management of the fur seal industry in the Pribilof Islands. He visited Alaska regularly thereafter, spending much of the rest of his life fighting in Congress to reverse the practices that had led to disastrous declines in the northern fur seal population. While on his Alaskan assignment, Elliott met and married Alexandra Melovidoff, daughter of an official on the staff of the last Russian governor of Alaska.

Elliott traveled more extensively in the Territory than any other late nineteenth-century artist, from Southeast Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. He also produced many images of Mt. Rainier and environs in the Pacific Northwest. A prolific artist, he made striking watercolors of landscapes, villages, and animal life wherever he went. In 1874, his 538-page report on the seal, containing drawings, maps and observations, alerted the United States to conservation measures that would have to be taken to preserve the animal and the industry.

Varying widely in scale and level of detail, Elliott's work ranges from spare to dramatic. It is characterized by clear topographical observation and a light, sure touch. Important collections of his work are held by museums in Alaska, Washington, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

Elliott may not have paid much attention to the individual in his work but he missed little else. In an attempt to record the cultural life of Alaska's Native people for posterity, he lavished attention on his subjects' subsistence lifestyle, clothing, dwellings, and the tools needed for everyday living. "Fishing from Kayaks, Captains Harbour" (1872) shows an Aleutian man cod-fishing. The man has his back turned to the viewer as he hauls in his catch and stores it in the front hatch of his kayak. The kamleika or gut parka, the shape of the kayak, the oar, the fish, and the rope are all beautifully rendered and highly detailed. The Unalaska coastline with its steaming volcano is also richly defined. The absence of figure-to-viewer interaction and the spectacular setting combine to create a timeless and almost spiritual quality.

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


Henry Elliot :Fishing from Kayaks, Captains Harbour"

Henry Elliott Alaska themed watercolor painting

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik