Innovative Indigenous Design

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

 

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Rico Lanaat’ Worl’s (Tlingit/Athabascan) art is a focused study in learning formline design, the traditional style of the Indigenous Northwest Coast people. His skateboards are featured in museum collections such as the Anchorage Museum, the Museum of the North, and the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Rico currently serves on the board of directors for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. His art business, Trickster Company, is showcased online and with a storefront in downtown Juneau, Alaska.

 

Instead of notes, artistic sketches filled the page during class while Rico pursued his degree in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning that degree, Rico came home and worked for a regional tribal nonprofit in repatriation and on designing language learning games. Though soon, he found himself creating more and more art.

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Generations of Rico’s people have lived, worked, and created in the challenging climate of the Northwest Coast. He seeks to honor those values and traditions while exemplifying contemporary art and what it means to live a healthy, modern, Indigenous lifestyle.

“I create design that represents that Native people are an important part of this world,” Rico says.

“I create design that represents that Native people are an important part of this world.”
— Rico Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan)

Skateboards became Rico’s canvas and platform to reach youth, to instill pride in who they are as Native people.

When he decided to create a deck of cards, it took four months to design every face card as an individual piece of art. It took just four days to fund production through Kickstarter.com.

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Along with Rico’s sister — 2017 Artist in Business Leadership fellow Crystal Worl — with her interdisciplinary art, Trickster Company was born. The family business provides jobs and an outlet for local artists in their community. Always striving for innovation, Rico is using his 2018 Artist in Business Leadership program to experiment with integrating leather and seal fur into his metal work.

When Rico sees youth ride a skateboard they picked up at Trickster Company, he knows centuries of living and creating on his people’s land is being experienced and upheld by the next generation.