Alaska Artists: James Kivetoruk Moses

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

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James Kivetoruk Moses was born in 1900 near Cape Espenberg at the southern entrance to Kotzebue Sound. Moses spent his youth and middle years hunting seal, reindeer, and polar bear; trading furs and sled dogs in Siberia and his native Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula. In 1954, when injuries from an airplane crash ended his hunting days, Moses taught himself to paint. Moses used several recurring themes in his drawings, including shamans, the advent of white men in northern Alaska, and Eskimo legends.

By the early 1930s, Moses took another trading job in Espenberg, working for John Backland, Jr. whose trade vessel, the C. H. Holmes, had delivered supplies as far north as Barrow since before 1900. Unable to write or keep inventories, Moses was advised to hire a secretary or bookkeeper. At the time, Bessie Ahgupuk (sister of artist George Aden Ahgupuk) was attending the White Mountain Industrial School in Shishmaref.  Moses and Bessie Ahgupuk married in 1932, and thereafter, his wife wrote all the supply orders and kept the inventory for the store.

In 1953, Moses was returning by plane from a fishing trip at Bristol Bay. During a storm, the plane crashed into Ear Mountain near Shishmaref and one of Moses' legs was severely injured. While recuperating in the hospital from several operations, he again took up drawing. He knew that he would never be able to hunt and trap again for a living. From then on, his art was his main source of income. Moses' style of drawing is very different from that of his contemporaries, particularly in its degree of detail. His drawings were, for the most part, based on actual people, places, and events that he personally experienced or saw. In this sense, his works are truly documentary.

Besides three drawings by Moses at the California Academy of Sciences, large bodies of his work are in the collections of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, and the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City also has a number of his works. He is widely represented in private collections throughout the United States.

After suffering a stroke in 1974, followed by heart and knee surgery a few years later, Moses continued to draw as much as he could, but his output had slowed tremendously. In 1976, his eldest child, James, Jr., disappeared near Nome and was never found. Their other four children had previously died, leaving Moses and his wife all alone. By 1978, he was no longer drawing at all, and he died in 1982.

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|


Herder Training a Wild Deer for a Sled Deer James Kiveroruk Moses drawing

James Kivertoruk Moses drawing of Alaska natives

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