Interview with local Sami artist Kurt Seaberg


Kurt Seaberg is a Seward artist who creates lithographs that are full of life and movement. Seaberg is known for his depictions of nature as well as of the Sami, the indigenous people of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia. His work is intricate and expressive – you can see the individual fibers of the Sami’s traditional clothing, the deep lines etched into older faces, and the wind as it blows across heavy fur coats. A collection of Seaberg’s work will be displayed at the American Swedish Institute, and we wanted to take a few moments to talk with him about his work.

MB: Your exhibit at the American Swedish Institute is titled, The Spirit of Place. Can you talk a bit about what you hope to convey in this collection?

KS: The American Swedish Institute has generously offered me the opportunity to not only share my body of work, created over a period of 30 years, but also the work of my family, specifically my father and grandmother. So this is a rare opportunity to let people see the crucible that shaped and inspired me, that influenced me as an artist. What I hope to convey in this collection is that art, like life itself, is about relationships: relationships between the artist and the viewer, between the artist and his or her family of origin or ancestral ties, between the artist and the larger community of human beings or extended family and between the artist and the natural world, i.e. the community of non-humans and the earth itself. There is awesome power and beauty surrounding us all the time, a power that we ignore at our own peril because it is a part of us and we couldn’t live without it. Every place has a spirit or soul that influences us, as every Indigenous person knows, in a profound way. If I can move the viewer to recognize that, I feel I will have been successful.

MB: As a Sami-American, the influence of your heritage on your work can’t be overstated. When did you first start exploring that history in your artwork?

KS: In the 1990s I started to meet others with Sami heritage and we formed a group to sponsor events and put out a magazine called Baiki promoting Sami culture. I wrote articles and made illustrations for this publication and learned a great deal in the process. In 1994, I made a calendar which I called the Sami Spirit Calendar, with historical facts and stories about Sami people and decorated with my illustrations. I also printed the months and days of the week in the North Sami language. As I learned more I would add more information to the calendar, so it became a sort of educational tool. I’ve been doing this every year and have sent them all over North America as well as the Sami areas of Sweden, Norway and Finland.

MB: Your depictions of nature include all four seasons. Is there a time of year that you are particularly drawn to capture in your art? Why?

KS: I would have to say winter. People are often surprised to see how much color there is in a winter landscape, it’s not all gray. It’s just such a mysterious time of year, especially in the late afternoon on a clear day and the ground is covered with snow, when everything is bathed in a golden light and the blue shadows of the trees stretch way out across the snow. There’s no other time of year when the light is this steep and intense.

MB: Looking at your landscapes, many of them have a certain glow to them. Can you talk about how light plays into your work?

KS: Every artist knows that what we see is a mix of light and shadow. It’s the interplay between these two things, darkness and light, that gives form to the subject. How much light or how much shadow determines the mood. But it is light that gives color, and lithography is an ideal medium for capturing the subtle shifts of color in the sky for example or the surface of a body of water. What interests me is the mood or feeling, what I call the spirit of a place.


MB: Your portrait work is incredibly detailed and the expressions you capture seem to tell so much about each person. What inspires you to do such intricate work?

KS: I’ve always enjoyed looking at and drawing peoples’ faces, especially older people. Their story is written on their face.

Lithograph from the Spirit Calendar.

MB: Can you describe your process for creating portraits?

KS: I usually work from photographs when I do portraits. I spend a lot of time on them and nobody could sit for that long.

Lithograph from the Spirit Calendar.

MB: Where do you see your art taking you this year?

It’s been great being in so many shows this year. I hope to continue showing my work and making my art more available to a ever widening audience.

Exhibit Information

A collection of Seaberg’s work will be displayed – along with the work of his father, Albin Gert Seaberg, and grandmother – at the American Swedish Institute from January 26 to March 17, 2013. American Swedish Institute is located at 2600 Park Avenue S., Minneapolis.

For more information on the Sami, check out the recent article in the Star Tribune “Samis culture explored at American Swedish Institute.”

All images are reprinted with permission by Kurt Seaberg.