John Jay Hoover (1919-2011)

John Jay Hoover was born in Cordova, Alaska, to an Aleut/Russian mother and a Dutch father. As a child, he enjoyed drawing and painting as well as hunting, fishing, and other sports. Mr. Hoover worked various jobs, including in commercial fishing, which allowed him to spend the winter months learning about and improving his painting techniques.

In 1952, Mr. Hoover moved his wife and young children to Edmonds, Washington, where he joined an art co-op, giving him access to an exhibition gallery and regular interaction with other local artists. Like many of these artists, he enrolled in the Leon Derbyshire School of Fine Arts and studied with Mr. Derbyshire for three years.

During these early years, he worked primarily in oil paint. Many of the themes in his art focused on his memories of life in Alaska, though he experimented stylistically.

Mr. Hoover began working with wood carving in the late 1950s, including with cutting out shapes from pieces of wood and applying designs with oil paint. Later, he carved into the wood, drawing inspiration from traditional spirit boards and other Northwest and Native Alaska art.

Although he worked with various types of wood, cedar became his preferred medium.

The figures depicted in his art came from his studies of Native ancestors and spirits. Because he lacked a traditional Native upbringing, Mr. Hoover learned about Aleut stories, culture, and even woodcarving techniques through reading books. He gradually moved away from the traditional Native look and feel of carving and developed his own sculptural style.

The Collectors Gallery in Bellevue, Washington, held a major exhibition of Mr. Hoover’s sculptures in 1968. The Bureau of Indian Affairs purchased nearly all of his works, sending them on an international traveling exhibit through parts of Europe and Latin America, extending his recognition abroad.

Mr. Hoover continued his exploration of his medium by taking his single-panel spirit boards and adding narrower panels on either side to create triptychs, an inspiration which came from the Russian Orthodox objects that he saw as a child.

He also began cutting forms out of wood, then carving and painting them, at times creating sculptures that had one appearance when open and a different one when closed.

In the early 1970s, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Hoover taught art at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he worked for a time with Allan Houser, Fritz Scholder, and other Native American artists. Later, he spent time traveling and working abroad, exhibited in large museums, and won numerous awards and honors. He has been an impressive influence on young Native artists.

Developing a thorough understanding of traditional Native Alaskan history and culture, Mr. Hoover also embraced the work of twentieth century Native and non-Native artists and movements to create a body of work that combines a contemporary interpretation of traditional Native subjects and themes.

Credits: Story

Highlights from the BIA Museum Collection was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program, September 2016.

Shannon Stiles, Staff Curator
Annie Pardo, Museum Program Manager


Dunham, Mike. 2016. “Alaska Artist John Hoover Dead At 91 In Washington.” Alaska Dispatch News. Accessed October 7, 2016.

“Essay By Julie Decker In The Catalogue For The Exhibition Titled ‘John Hoover: Art And Life’.” 2016. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. Last modified 2011. Accessed October 7, 2016.

“John Hoover | MoNA.” Museum of Northwest Art. Accessed October 7, 2016.

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