Native artist Crystal Worl designs Alaska Airlines aircraft taking Indigenous language and art to the skies May 11, 2023 Ali Garbino 10 min read Share Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window) Growing up near the shores of Juneau, Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl was used to seeing Alaska Airlines fly over the mountains into her hometown. She says she dreamed of having her artwork displayed on a plane for years — and today, that dream became a reality. “Every time I looked at an Alaska plane, I couldn’t help but visualize the salmon being in formline, or having some sort of design that represents identity. I can’t help but look at things and see how to Indigenize them,” says Crystal. Photos by Ingrid Barrentine Today, we’re honored to reveal Crystal’s latest masterpiece: Xáat Kwáani (Salmon People). It’s the first aircraft in the history of any domestic airline to be named in an Alaska Native language and to depict the ancestral importance through Northwest Coast formline art. “My heart is so full and warm,” says Crystal. “Every time I create something big or small, it’s the same feeling of just fulfilling this need and wanting to create something and share my story, to stimulate something that’s in me that feels connected. It feels good to say that I live in Juneau and fish and hunt here and eat off this land. My family’s been here for a long time, and I can say my ancestors are from here, and I’m eating the same food in the same place that they once were, and that’s really special to be able to share that and say that and feel that—and to create and retell their stories through my eyes. It’s powerful.” Alaska Airlines has always had a profound connection to the state of Alaska—after all, it’s the foundation for becoming the premier West Coast airline we are today. In 1932, we took our first flight between Anchorage and Bristol Bay, home of the world’s most extensive sockeye salmon run. Our support in the state of Alaska encompasses everything from transporting critical medical supplies/cargo and investing in airport infrastructure to working with Alaska Native-owned businesses and organizations, as well as partnerships with universities to increase access to education and aviation careers. The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 will fly in our fleet for many years throughout our network and enter passenger service on May 12, 2023, with an inaugural flight from Anchorage through Southeast Alaska. The first stop of Flight 62, will be through Crystal’s hometown of Juneau, then it will continue through Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle. A fundamental belief of Native culture is that everything within the world and universe has a spirit. Xáat Kwáani means “Salmon People” in the Alaskan Tlingit language and refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and all of us who benefit from their stewardship of the environment. Crystal’s expressive designs purposefully blend the old and new. Her work, whether it’s printmaking, painting or public art, recreates and modernizes her ancestors’ stories and explores the relationships and bonds that her people, the land and the animals share with Alaska so that generations learn its importance through traditional formline design, which dates back thousands of years. She says this aircraft will serve as a gateway to represent Alaska Natives, and she’s incredibly proud. Her grandmother, Rosita Worl, remembers how even as a young toddler, Crystal couldn’t sit still, “The only thing that would slow her down were bright, bold, contrasting colors or patterns. I knew then she was going to be an artist,” she said. Rosita Worl (top left) serves as the president of Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI). Crystal and her family recently honored their clan’s origins at SHI’s celebration ceremony of 12 new totem poles along Juneau’s waterfront for its Kootéeyaa Deiyí, or Totem Pole Trail. “When people look at my art, I hope they feel inspired, they feel motivated, but I also want them to know, it’s not easy, it’s challenging,” says Crystal. “There’s a lot of things people don’t see … they see the end piece, which is the outcome of a lot of hard work … a lot of sweat, blood. Every piece I’ve done, that gets bigger and bigger, my life has been building up to it. And I’ve been working really hard to get there.” A tribute to strength and resilience As a tribute to salmon and its ancestral importance, this aircraft is the first in the country to be named in an Alaska Native language and the first time Alaska Airlines has featured a language besides English on the main door of an aircraft. “This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” says Crystal. “People will see it, they’ll read it, they’ll try to say ‘Xáat Kwáani’ (Salmon People), and they’ll want to know more and be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it. I think that’s significant in terms of the relationship we need to make between our languages that need speakers. So, I’m excited to be part of this.” Learn to pronounce Xáat Kwáani During the design process, Crystal worked with people close to her and we shared the design with employees from our Native Employee Network (NEN) business resource group, and multiple community leaders in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast. Crystal even redesigned the NEN logo with a fresh take on formline art, featuring the beloved salmon. Her mother, Beverly Demientieff, who is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Holy Cross, Alaska, was actually one of the founding members of Alaska’s NEN group when she was a customer service agent in Fairbanks, Alaska. “Everything about this project has come together in a really beautiful, connected way,” she said. Worl’s art features a lot of Northwest Coast formline design, which she practiced while apprenticing under Robert Davidson, who heavily impacted Worl’s understanding of the practice. “Having read about Crystal, seen her murals in Juneau and Anchorage and knowing her love of monumental art, she came to mind when we had the opportunity to paint a very large canvas— a 737-800,” said Marilyn Romano, regional vice president in Alaska. “Only this time, instead of remaining stationary and having viewers come to the art, we will take the art everywhere this plane flies, inviting guests to learn more about Alaska Native and Native American history, art, culture and language.” Talk about kismet: In 2020, Crystal and her friends tagged @alaskaair on Instagram with the caption: “Are you ready for me @alaskaair?? I’m ready for you.” She says she’s been manifesting the idea to create a plane for Alaska … and three years later, here it is. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Crystal Worl (@crystalworl) At a family gathering recently, her uncle, Marcelo Quinto, shared the significance of Crystal’s latest work, “She is part of us, she is part of the state of Alaska — her art is something that belongs to all of us here in Alaska, and it’s just fitting that it’s going on Alaska Airlines so that it gets to go through the whole state of Alaska. So, I hope everybody congratulates her and will enjoy knowing this is all a part of us.” Uncle Marcelo sharing a proud moment with Crystal at a family gathering. Crystal has high hopes that this aircraft will encourage people to learn and embrace Indigenous culture, values — and to do our part to make the world a better place for the salmon. Salmon has a special meaning and significance in the State of Alaska and the West Coast. For Alaska Natives and Native American cultures of this region, the salmon is part of a spiritual and cultural identity. “Salmon are perhaps probably the strongest beings on earth,” she said. “We have a great amount of respect for salmon because they’re feeding my family, clan members, community members, and Alaskans. The nutrients in their bodies feed our people, this community. It’s how our Tongass rainforest is so lush and how our animals are so big and strong. Their muscles feed our muscles and stimulate so many facets of our existence and have for thousands of years — I just hope that will remain for the next generations.” Crystal standing in front of her 60-foot by 25-foot mural of Tlingit activist Elizabeth Peratrovich on Juneau’s downtown library building, which is designed in a modernized version of the Lukaax̱.ádix̱ clan crest, the Sockeye Salmon along with Peratrovich’s moiety, the Raven in formline design. Watch timelapse video of the aircraft being painted: “We are honored to share the vibrant art of Northwest Coast formline with Alaska Airlines and the world. We see the ‘Salmon People’ design symbolizing the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultural value of Wooch. Yax, Gu dlúu, Ama Mackshm: social and spiritual balance. Our Indigenous artists continue to utilize and evolve formline art, honoring our ancestors and inspiring future generations.” – Sealaska and Sealaska Heritage Institute “For me, this plane is confirmation that the art, language and culture that our Ancestors practiced and hoped to pass on to future generations is not only alive and well but is thriving. It is a statement for all Indigenous people that we are still here.” – Dawn Smith, Tsimshian, clan is wolf. Co-Chair, Native Employee Network Alaska Airlines Co-Chairs of Alaska’s Native Employee Network Dawn Smith (Tsimshian, clan is wolf) and Robyn Downs (Steilacoom Indian Tribe, Steilacoom, WA) “Alaska has always been, and will always be, a Native place with deep, rich cultural heritages. For too long, Alaska has been viewed primarily through a geographical lens, when it is the many Indigenous cultures and peoples that truly make our state unique. We honor and appreciate Alaska Airlines’ commitment to ensuring that from the moment someone sets foot on this airplane, they will have an opportunity to learn about Alaska’s First Peoples, who have inhabited Alaska since time immemorial.” – Emily Edenshaw President and CEO, Alaska Native Heritage Center About the Artist | Crystal Worl ⦿ Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven moiety, Lukaax.̱ádi Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House and is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks, Alaska, and Filipino. ⦿ Crystal has created several public art installations in Alaska including a design on the side of a Juneau’s Capitol City Fire Rescue ambulance, a steel cut medallion installed in downtown Juneau, and last year, painted a mural 125- foot by 48-foot in Anchorage. ⦿ In March, Crystal designed “The Art of Skateboarding” stamps for the U.S. Postal Service that laud the sport of skateboarding — and what Indigenous groups have brought to the skating culture. ⦿ Today, Crystal lives in Juneau, Alaska, as a co-owner and co-designer of Trickster Company with her brother Rico Worl. Trickster Company promotes innovative Indigenous design focused on the Northwest Coast art and exploring themes and issues in Native culture. Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window) Related Comments Love the article Perfect! Alaska Airlines is unique. The new design is so fitting. I will look forward to seeing the planes in their new “outfit” at the airport. A great sense of pride is felt seeing this young woman’s artistry displayed in such a way! Our young people will be the one’s to keep our culture alive! Very beautiful pictures and Awesome video. Very well expressed. This article makes me happy for so many reasons. Coming from a family of artists it warms my heart to know that one of Crystal’s dream has come true to be able to share her art and story in such a beautiful and meaningful way. I am also so pleased that Alaskan Airlines thought to honor the importance of highlighting indigenous art and history in a way that will encourage people to learn more about Alaska, it’s people, and truly beautiful lands. I will be coming to Juneau in a few short weeks mid June. This will be my third time there, forth time to AK, flying via Alaska Airlines each time. Family and friends ask why I keep going back. It’s because Alaska brings me so much peace. Hard to explain the feeling of pure joy and calm I get from this magical place. Congratulations to Crystal! I hope one day I will be able to fly on your creation. More of this please! The artwork is awesome and I think would go over rather well if we had a whole series of liveries celebrating the different regions of Alaska. Such an amazing informative article about Crystal snd back ground that brought this project to life. I am stunned by the beauty of the plane. I will be honored if I ever get to fly on that plane. I am humbled to learn about her true love and dedication to her lineage and family. Crystal should be very proud. Wow. Beautiful. Thank you crystal. Amazing story, amazing person, and amazing livery! Wow, I can’t wait to work on it! Really spectacular work, thank you! Thank you, Alaska. The design is a beautiful and wonderful piece of cultural art and a reminder of the significance of salmon to all of us. So proud to share this beautiful Tlingit art with this Alaska Airlines aircraft. Great to see Crystal Worl’s awesome creation! Beautifully executed using the wonderful Boeing 737 as a model worthy of this new livery! Crystal has made two diverse media companionable travel partners! Warms my heart as a retired Alaska Airline employee who lives in Juneau, to see this incredible work of art by Crystal Worl. I look forward to see flight 62 land in Juneau on May 12th. As a grandmother myself, I know her Grandmother Rosita Worl must be so proud ❤️ Wow! I am moved to tears to see this beautiful salmon design by Crystal Worl on this airplane. Thank you to all of the people who worked on making this beautiful vision come to life, the designers, the painters, everybody. It is stunning! Beautiful! One of the great aircraft liveries in the world! I’m so proud of ‘my’ airline! This article is very moving. I am so happy Crystal was able to make her dream come true, in partnership with Alaska Airlines. I have long been proud of AK’s commitment to the communities they serve, and as a Washington state resident, love the fact they have the largest market share at SeaTac. Great design on the skies. It`s deeper than any others experiences in regional arts. Congrats to artist and Alaska Airlines This is my new favorite livery! Love it! Comments are closed.