Descendant Spotlight: Danielle Larsen

Photos courtesy of Danielle Larsen.

Beadwork, painting and sewing – when it comes to creating art, CIRI descendant Danielle Larsen (Inupiaq, Koyukon Athabascan and Unangan Aleut) doesn’t play favorites. Regardless of the medium, the goal, she says, is to “capture the most important qualities of people, places, memories and experiences, and transform them into my own modern Alaska Native cultural idiom.”

Danielle has studied with and counts among her influences Alaska Native master artists Alvin Amason and Steve Gordon (painting); Perry Eaton (mask-making); Emma Hildbrand (caribou tufting); Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Elaine Kingeekuk and Mary Tunchuk (seal gut sewing); Hugh McPeck (sculpture); Gary Mealor (watercolor); and Florence Sheakley (two-needle beading).

She also counts among her influences her parents. As a child, Danielle’s interest in art was piqued by art classes her mother took. “She showed me all the sewing basics, taught me to read patterns and how to make kuspuks for my dolls, and has always been incredibly supportive of my creative endeavors,” she said. Her father channeled his creativity into a career as an engineer and project manager, eventually owning his own consultancy firm that specialized in infrastructure projects in rural Alaska.

“After he passed away (in 2010 at the age of 63), it pushed me to go after my dream of becoming an artist,” Danielle explained. She returned to the University of Alaska Anchorage and earned a second bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in painting and Alaska Native art.

Danielle grew up in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska. She is the daughter of original CIRI shareholder Florence Wiehl of Beaver, Alaska, and John Larsen Jr. of King Cove, Alaska. “My mom raised five children and encouraged us to be creative,” she said. “We spent many summers on the Kenai Peninsula camping and fishing.” Today, those landscapes and wildlife feature prominently in her paintings.

Danielle is perhaps best known for her colorful, large-scale paintings of jarred smoked salmon. “After my father passed away, looking at pictures of his kippered smoked salmon made me happy,” she said. “I found comfort in painting the salmon; it brought me closer to my heritage as a fishing family and being Alaska Native.” She focuses on subjects that have personal meaning to her, such as an Aleut visor, her dad’s glasses or her grandmother’s teacup.

In January, through a Museums Alaska grant, the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak, Alaska, announced it had added one of Danielle’s paintings to its collection: “Reflections of the Seasons,” a large-scale, oil-on-canvas painting of canned salmon.

A former CIRI employee, Danielle recently landed her “dream job” – working in design and illustration at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). “I work at ANTHC during the day, and I paint at night and on the weekends,” she said. “CIRI has had a big impact on my life, from my first job as a college student, educational scholarships through The CIRI Foundation and even buying my first home. I’m grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had.”

Links to Danielle’s artwork can be found via the CIRI Alaska Native Artist Directory at