By MIKE DUNHAM
In 1995, Tlingit master artist Nathan Jackson told me about a headpiece he carved in the 1970s. It showed a man flashing the old "peace sign," associated both with hippies and President Nixon and, for a while, universally used as a casual greeting. The unique work had disappeared, he said.
The "Peace, Man" headpiece became something of a legend. Alaska State Museum curator of collections Steven Henrickson said that he heard about it when he joined the museum staff in 1988.
"In 2005, I was invited to the home of a local attorney who was selling off parts of his Alaska Native arts collection, and among a number of really nice items was this plaque, of the type made for Tlingit headdresses—the shake.ut type, with the sea lion whiskers on top and ermine fur trailer. It was difficult to contain my excitement when I saw the peace signs. The attorney said that he had run across Nathan at the post office and he saw the carving that Nathan was carrying in a paper bag, and bought it on the spot.
"We had little acquisitions money at the time, but luckily we arranged to purchase it and add it to the Alaska State Museum collection, which holds some other examples of Nathan’s early work. ... Subsequently, I was able to track down a contact sheet of 35mm film of some pictures taken of Nathan on a Puget Sound canoe voyage in 1972 showing Nathan dancing with the complete headdress. We never could find the original photographer, Dave Barnes, or his negs, so we scanned the contact sheet and came up with somewhat usable images.
"The headdress is currently on exhibit in our 'recent acquisitions' show."
Henrickson and I batted around some speculation as to the "meaning" of the piece, if any. But Jackson has a quirky sense of humor and there's no doubt that he intended it with a smile.