Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Nakon’ Vent – Athabascan Painter

Nakon' Vent. Courtesy photo
Nakon’ Vent. Courtesy photo

Nakon’ Vent and I both grew up in Huslia. She works at the R&M Mercantile in Huslia where she is raising her young son. Her mother is Mabel Vent, the daughter of the late Robert and Mary Vent. Nakon’s siblings are Alisha and Yoda. The name, Nakon’, is actually Mabel’s Koyukon Athabascan name. Her mother liked the name, and so gave her daughter the name.

Nakon’ studied fine arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. While in college, she took drawing and sculpting classes, and a water coloring class. She also attended hair design school and earned a beautician certificate.

Nakon' Vent paints scenes from Huslia. Courtesy photo
Nakon’ Vent paints scenes from Huslia. Courtesy photo

While living in Fairbanks, she successfully ran to become Miss Fairbanks Native Association in 1995. In 1996, she ran successfully to become Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO). She had a dress that was made for her mother by her grandmother. Nakon’ says, “It was made by my grandma for my mom Mable, who passed it down to Sharon, then Carla, then me, and I gave it to Alisha.”

In her early 20s, Nakon’ moved back home to take care of her grandparents. She considers that one of her biggest accomplishments, besides raising her son.

Nakon' Vent captures a beautiful sunset at Huslia. Courtesy photo
Nakon’ Vent captures a beautiful sunset at Huslia. Courtesy photo

Nakon’ was always drawing since she was young. Her mother gave her an acrylic paint set when for her 22nd birthday. After discovering she liked it, she began saving up for more supplies and paints. She said, “I’ve never had any classes about painting or how to use acrylics, so I read up on the subject with every magazine or book I could find.”

Nakon’ has now been painting for 15 years, and she finally feels comfortable calling herself an artist. As you can see, she is very talented.

“I love painting nature, every day we see where we come from. That inspires me…watching the sun set over Huslia Mountain and seeing the mid-summer sun shining through the leaves from all the birch trees. Every direction you turn, there is a raven flying.” –Nakon’ Vent (Koyukon Athabascan)

I asked Nakon’ if she had any tips for someone who might be interested in painting. She shares some advice below.

  • If you can take classes, DO IT. I’ve had so many questions and had to really do my research to answer them.
  • You must practice, practice, practice.
  • You have to build up your hand-eye coordination. The more paintings you do the more your confidence builds up.
  • Never give up. Sometimes paintings don’t sell or someone gives you their opinion and it’s not what you want to hear. Painting is meant for you to show how you interpret something, it’s a part of you. When I paint Huslia, I’m showing people the home I’m proud of, how God has blessed us here every day.
Nakon' Vent paints the night sky near Huslia. Courtesy photo
Nakon’ Vent paints the night sky near Huslia. Courtesy photo

R&M Mercantile store is a family-owned business owned by Mabel, Nakon’ and her sister, Alisha. Nakon’ says her mother is very understanding and flexible with her as she works in the store and home-schools her five year old son for part of the day. I asked her how she manages all of it and still finds time to paint. Thankfully, her son has not bothered her paint supplies, so she has never had to hide her art supplies.

Nakon’ paints after her son goes to sleep. She takes out her table and paints supplies. All of her tables in her home have some dried paint on them. For inspiration, Nakon’ takes and collects photos of Huslia and the surrounding area.

“I crank up my music, find the scene I want to paint, pick which size canvas and get to work. I get lost with painting sometimes so I could look up and see that I have been painting for six hours.” –Nakon’ Vent

“Nakon’ is one of those rare painters who aptly captures what living in our village is like. Every time I see a new painting of hers, it’s almost like I’m taken back home. Huslia is lucky to have her, because not many villages have painters who can so beautifully capture their home. Plus she’s just one of the kindest, big-hearted ladies I know–I always try to visit her at least once when I go home.” – Jeneva Guard of Huslia/Anchorage

Nakon’ dream is to get an artist’s table so she can stop painting on her dinner table. My cousin, Janella Lewis, says, “I think she does beautiful paintings. She has inspired me to keep doing it and to try something different. I like her ideas.” Janella is also a painter. I bought one of Nakon’ painting a few years ago and gave it as a gift. I am proud of her for teaching herself to paint. Her natural talent as an artist shines through and truly captures the beauty in her area.

A painting of the area around Huslia, Alaska by Nakon' Vent. Courtesy photo
A painting of the area around Huslia, Alaska by Nakon’ Vent. Courtesy photo