Crystal Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven Moiety, Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House. She is a child of a Thunderbird and from the Chilkat region in Southeast Alaska. From her mother’s side, Crystal is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks. Raised between Fairbanks and Juneau, she was introduced at a young age to traditional arts, dance and storytelling. After earning her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in 2013, Crystal began intensively studying aerial dance and circus arts across New Mexico, California and Washington.
Currently, she lives in Juneau working as an artist and aerial dancer. She works on art full-time and helps her brother, Rico Worl, run Trickster Company, a contemporary Native arts and gift design shop. They commission artists for designs, but the majority of the artwork is done by them. Crystal does graphic art for the company and she also makes fine art, and sells that on her own. In August, she had a booth at the Santa Fe Indian Market®, a prestigious juried Native arts show.
Crystal tours around Alaska, performing as a professional aerialist. After missing an opportunity to watch her perform in Nome, I got a chance to catch up with her in June to find out more about her work as an artist and aerial dancer.
The first time Crystal saw aerial dancing she fell in love with it. She wasn’t strong enough physically and had no idea how to do it, but decided it was something she wanted to pursue. Now, Crystal says, “Dancing is my oxygen. I need it to grieve, feel good, and be in tune spiritually and mentally.” When she started, she was only able to do one pull-up, and she was afraid of heights. Crystal now trains by running, stretching and conditioning her body every day.
Crystal says, “Aerial dancing keeps me in tune with my body; enables me to better focus on art; it helps me to sit down.” She has to really be in shape and keep up her flexibility, so she has to work hard and find time to practice aerial dancing. Because she works full-time and more on art, it can be difficult to go to the gym. Training as an aerial dancer gives her a great workout.
Crystal finds inspiration from traditional Alaska Native living and incorporates this into her work. She and her family pick berries every summer and through trial and error, she found a way to process blueberries to be used to dye some of her earrings. She is also making fish skin hide to incorporate into her work. She wonders how her ancestors processed and tanned fish skins. She figures they probably spent years to come up with the process. Crystal says, “A lot of my art is about harvesting materials and using them in my artwork.”
Crystal talked with me about the process of making art. She loves discussing process with other artists and exchanging knowledge. Every
artist has their own way of doing things. Crystal says, “Process is forever evolving. It’s the signature in your work. You are not just buying a piece of artwork, you are buying a part of the artist – it’s a whole history and knowledge – who has put time and research into a part of them.”
Making her living through artwork and aerial dancing is a huge commitment and challenging, but Crystal loves what she does. She has to dedicate as much time as she spends on her actual artwork and dancing, to marketing herself as a business person and public speaking. Crystal finds herself doing a lot of writing and promotion for herself and her businesses. She recently submitted a grant for a kiln which will allow her to work with glass and all kinds of materials.
Because there is no aerial studio in Anchorage or Juneau, Crystal had to create her own. A 20-30 foot ceiling with a steel beam is needed for aerial dance performances. Although it is a challenge to find a creative space, Crystal is determined to make the time and pull it together to be able to practice the art of aerial dancing. Her brother told her that she would have to pick art or aerial dancing. Crystal said, “No, I’ll figure it out.” Her dream is to have an artist and aerial studio in one.
Crystal credits her family for being a huge part of her success. Her parents always inspired her to do her best. Her siblings have taken a big part in her life and are her best friends. She says, “We help each other a lot because we study Tlingit design.” Rico and Crystal complement each other. She doesn’t have time for everything she wants to learn. Her earring designs require engraving, which her brother is really good at. She is good at kiln cast work, and she helps cast his designs. It’s an exchange of art process and business.
Crystal’s dad and step-mom started a business selling manufactured products on a large-scale, operating in Alaska and selling Alaska Native designs. Her mom, Beverly, has always encouraged and allowed her to spend time on art. Crystal says, “She’s always been my biggest fan of my art. She’s also learning to tan fish skin with me – together we’re learning culture, working with animals, harvesting and using animals, utilizing the land.” Relating to land and animals influences Crystal and how she does her art.
It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and smarts to work as a full-time artist and to be an aerial dancer at the same time. I admire her determination and tenacity to take on both.
Learn more about Crystal Worl’s fine art on her website (www.crystalworl.com) and Trickster Company (www.trickstercompany.com). To see her artwork and aerial dancing, you can also request to follow her on Instagram (@crystalworl).
Angela Gonzalez is the communications coordinator for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP). She writes and takes photos for RurAL CAP’s Village Voices newsletter. Angela is Koyukon Athabascan whose hometown is Huslia, Alaska. She enjoys taking photos and blogging about the Athabascan culture and Alaska Native topics on her blog, called the Athabascan Woman at http://athabascanwoman.com/.