Donald Johnston

Donald Johnston is a member of the Qagan Tayagungin Tribe, an Aleut community located on the Shumagin Islands in southwestern Alaska. Donald, who currently lives in Oregon with his family, is renowned for his talent and exceptional skill weaving baleen baskets. Donald began working with baleen, the flexible dental strands that help whales filter krill and other tiny sea animals from the sea, nearly 20 years ago after a chance encounter. A man sitting on the side of the road in Anchorage, Alaska, was shaving baleen with a knife and handed Donald a strand and a knife - he started slicing hasn’t stopped since!

Donald shaves the baleen to usable widths, stitches the flexible material in the traditional clockwise direction, and then reverses the direction to create a textured pattern rarely seen in the art form unique to Alaskan Natives. He also incorporates strands of white baleen, found in female whales age 65 and older, to give his basket even more visual interest. Donald hand carves walrus ivory finials to use on all his lidded baskets.

Donald is a recipient of the 2017 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market Best of Show with his basket, “Qagaxtag (Love),” a stunning lidded basket featuring a whale-tail finial. Following his award in Phoenix, Donald received the 2017 Santa Fe Indian Market best of Classification Award for a basket featuring a walrus ivory carving of a kayaker, a tribute to his Aleut heritage.

Donald continues to display and sell his exquisite award winning baleen baskets at the annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, the annual Santa Fe Indian Market and is a featured artist at Arctic Spirit Gallery.

White Baleen Basket with Whale Tail Finial
White Baleen Basket with Whale Tail Finial by Don Johnston
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