Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

Creating During a Planetary Pandemic | Dawn Wallace Kulberg

Dawn Wallace Kulberg

Dawn Wallace Kulberg (Chugach Alutiiq), Link Bracelet, sterling silver, 14k gold, fossil walrus tusk with scrimshaw. All images courtesy of the artist. © 2020 Dawn Wallace Kulberg.

By Staci Golar

It’s not surprising, really, that Dawn Wallace Kulberg (Chugach Alutiiq) became a jeweler. She grew up in Santa Fe watching her parents, Denise and Samuel Wallace, create extraordinary pieces, and learned stonecutting and setting, scrimshaw, and other jewelry techniques from them along the way.

Like all artists, however, Wallace Kulberg quickly made the work her own. She is a member of the Old Harbor Native Corporation but lives on the Big Island in Hawaii. Her detailed pieces reflect a delightful mix of her tropical surroundings and Chugach Alutiiq heritage. Everything from caribou and polar bears to hummingbirds and butterflies make an appearance in the necklaces, belts, rings, earrings, and bracelets she masterfully crafts. The figures and animals have a lovely, calming presence. They are serene and sweet, beautiful and enchanting, and all have stories to tell.

Here Wallace Kulberg shares a snippet of life during this time of surreal, ordered shutdowns and self-isolation.

Dawn Wallace Kulberg and family

The artist and her family.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I am currently finishing up some jewelry for a gallery in Sydney, Australia, called Four Winds. There was supposed to be an opening this April, featuring both my work and my mother Denise Wallace’s, but it will just be available via the website because of the COVID-19 virus and the need to stop public gatherings right now.

Who or what are you most inspired by right now?

Right now my inspiration is coming from the nurses and doctors and others in the medical field who are risking their own health to help people, and who don’t get to go home to all this quiet time with their families because they don’t want to get them sick. I am so thankful for them.

As news of the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, so do humorous memes that express how little shelter-in-place orders will change an artist’s day-to-day life since many already work alone. On a serious note, do you think this period in time has the potential to change your work if it hasn’t already?

Dawn Wallace Kulberg

Fox pin/pendant, sterling silver, 14k gold, fossil walrus tusk with scrimshaw, 1¾ × 1¼ in.

Our governor just announced that as of tomorrow he is instituting a stay-at-home order for all residents through April 30t. It’s true that as an artist who works at home I can’t say much has changed in my schedule with the need to avoid public gatherings. Plus, we live in a very rural area, so we already have a lot of space between us and our neighbors.

I even chose to homeschool my oldest son this year, and my two younger kids are not school age yet, so having kids at home while I work is the norm for me. Not being able to have play dates is a big bummer for them though. It’s hard to tell your 12-year-old that he can’t even ride his bike to his buddy’s house down the road to hang out for a couple of hours.

Even though I am used to being at home a lot, I still miss my interactions with people: a quick hug when I run into a friend at the post office, or being able to pop by my sister-in-law’s to visit her and my niece.

Dawn Wallace Kulberg

Puffin Pin/Pendant, sterling silver, 14k, fossil walrus tusk with scrimshaw.

Since I am still sending jewelry to Four Winds Gallery for the preplanned show in April, there hasn’t been any immediate change in what I’m working on. I’m really unsure of the future though and what shows and sales will look like this year. I find myself thinking about projects that I have wanted to start or try out for a while now but never had the time for. I look forward to using some of this time to design new things and work in some new media, but with no show or deadline for them, just taking the time to work and enjoy something new and be creative without feeling like I ever have to show them to anyone if I don’t want to.

What role do you think art can play in a time of crisis? 

I’m already seeing a lot of people in my social media feeds who are turning to art and crafting right now. Teachers, accountants, waitresses, etc. who are at home beading earrings or journaling or drawing. Art and music are really wonderful ways to channel and express big feelings and connect with each other. In times like these where there is a lot of fear, it can be grounding.

Dawn Wallace Kulberg

Polar Bear Pin/Pendant, sterling silver, 14k gold, fossil walrus tusk inlaid with scrimshaw, 1½ × 1½ in.

I really think art and creativity are for everyone, it’s something we all need in our lives. Some just lose touch with it for some reason or don’t have the time. When people tell me they are not artistic, I always say, “There is no way that’s true.” It makes me happy to see people having the time to create more because it doesn’t just lead to what we think of traditionally as art — it leads to all kinds of functional, everyday things.

Creativity is in everything. You can take any job and elevate it to an art form by slowing down a bit and putting more time and emotion into it. When you do that you inspire and show appreciation for things because we know and are reminded now that things can change so fast. I think we could use more makers and more creativity in all we do.  I would love to see this situation lead to that.


You can see more of Dawn Wallace Kulberg’s work by following Dawn Wallace Jewelry on Facebook, Instagram or visiting


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