Oscar attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and studied under Ron Senungetuk, Glenn Simpson, Terry Choy and Kesler Woodward.
Since 1996, Oscar has produced three dimensional framed art. The fine art celebrates the Yup'ik dance, the environment, animals, fish, birds, and Yup'ik stories adorned in spirit masks. Oscar has developed a unique blend of modern and cultural motifs, and influenced how other Alaska Native artisans produce their work into a new generation. Before relocating to Bethel, Oscar developed a studio in Mekoryuk with the support of the community. "I believe each of us are given talents by Ellarpiim Yua and the opportunity He gives us to share it with our fellow neighbor as He wills," said Oscar.
MASKS OF THE YUP’IK / CUP'IG
At'saq, John Oscar ©2014
Yup’ik and Cup'ig used masks representing animals of the land, sea and air during dance festivals. They did not believe in these masks as gods, but temporary imitations of animals, stories, humor and human events. The early missionaries saw these events as "…evil, a waste of time, and an unnecessary distribution of wealth” ” thus abolished their cultural festivals.
Carvings of animals and dried inflated bladders were hung in the Qasgiq (a communal house) on strings leading to the middle. In the center was a doll representing Ellarpiim Yua (Person of the Universe). These symbolized the universe of man and nature and their ties to the "One who controlled, watched and existed everywhere". As they danced the whole representation was pulled up and down in rhythm to the drum, in celebration and respect to Ellarpiim Yua.
Relatives from other villages would bring gifts of garments, hunting tools, utensils, food, household goods and useful material for clothing. Participants would prepare in advance, practicing their songs and dance. This event brought family kinships and rekindled extended relatives. Gifts were shared especially among the widows, elderly and the poor.
Some masks had holes in their outstretched hands. This was the symbol of Ellarpiim Yua having control of the universe and everything seen and unseen. When man disputed over resources, Ellarpiim Yua would close His hands. After all, the universe belonged to Ellarpiim Yua's care, and humans were merely borrowers.
After the festival, the animals were returned symbolically through these masks. Submerging them under the ice or burned, usually performed by a Shaman. Sometimes, for masks having no significance, children would use them for play or burned as kindling. Shamans were not seen as priests or leaders of the village, but ones who had the gift to heal and the ability to protect his community from other harmful beings or another bitter shaman. They were said to have the ability to move natural events, and in times of shortage, offer advice to where fish and animals were abundant or beseech for their availability.The spirit of animals then returned to Ellarpiim Yua, and told Him how well they were treated by the humans. They asked permission to return to the festival by making themselves available through hunting, fishing and gathering the following year. Ellarpiim Yua then being pleased of the love and respect humans showed for one another, gave the fish and wildlife permission to celebrate life again.