As an Alaska Native artist, Colleen’s work is profoundly shaped by the Alaska landscape. She grew up in two contradicting cultures between Fort Yukon and Fairbanks. Her mother comes from a family of native Alaskans—Gwichyaa Gwich’in, and her father is white. The different worldviews, backgrounds, and landscapes deeply influenced her early works, life, and art. Colleen expresses awareness that she is not the only person living in a middle area and she hopes her work speaks to all who know what it’s like to live in those less defined spaces. Her relationship with each of these cultures is continuously morphing as she grows older and gains new experiences along the way. Colleen works with the aspiration that you will sense that from her art.
Craft supplies were scarce in the village where Colleen grew up, which led her to be incredibly creative and resourceful with whatever organic material she could find outside. Her Alaskan wall art naturally—and perhaps even unintentionally became whimsical and multi-dimensional as she became a visual artist. Colleen chooses materials that bring feelings of comfort, home, care, and belonging. You can see this displayed in her paintings and art prints with her use of non-traditional materials Alaska natives will find familiar such as porcupine quills, feathers, and animal furs. Working with traditional Gwich’in sewing materials and other elements from nature allows Colleen to show the influence of her opposing two cultures.
In sharing about her background, Colleen tells about the immense support from her family and the local community—it was a wonderful place to grow up and was also the inspiration for her to become an artist. However, she also feels the weight of what her community has been through. Many generational traumas permeate her art without her directly addressing them. Colleen knows others have experienced brokenness, hurt, and difficult circumstances just as she has. She deeply hopes that her Alaska Native art can speak and bring healing to people who are stuck in a hard place.
Alaskan artists all bring a sense of personal experience, cultural influence, and unique beauty to their work. However, Colleen believes what differentiates her work from other local Alaskan artists is her ability to create beauty out of the tension between her two cultures—it is truly a unique perspective.
She currently lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her two children, who both enjoy painting right alongside her. She is also very grateful to be passing down a legacy of creativity and resourcefulness as well as the ability to process life through art—which in and of itself is an art form.
Bachelor of Fine Art, Printmaking and Painting; University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2008
JACC Gallery, More than Survival, Juneau AK, Aug. 2022
Bunnell Street Arts Center, This Is How I Learn a Lesson, Homer AK, June 2022
Well Street Art Co., Look Home, Fairbanks, AK, Aug. 2021
Bunnell Street Arts Center, Restoration, Homer AK, Aug. 2019
Bear Gallery, Nurture, Fairbanks, AK Aug. 2017
Well Street Art Co., Patterns: Paintings and Prints, Fairbanks, AK, Nov. 2014
Well Street Art Co., New Works, Fairbanks, AK, June 2012
2023 Well Street Art Company, New Works, Fairbanks, AK
2022 Alaska Biennial, Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, AK
2022 Bear Gallery, Fairbanks Arts Association’s Spring Juried Exhibition: Entanglement, Fbks, AK
2021 Bunnell Street Arts Center, Circle of Protection: Body, Land and Spirit, Homer, AK
2021 Bear Gallery, Fairbanks Arts Association’s Spring Juried Exhibition: Vivid, Fbks. AK
2020 Anchorage Museum, Alaska Biennial Juried Exhibition, Anchorage, AK
2019 Bear Gallery, Fairbanks Arts Association’s Spring Juried Exhibition: Adaptation, Fbks, AK
2018 Bear Gallery, Limited Edition, Fairbanks, AK
2018 Bear Gallery, 33rd Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition, Fairbanks, AK
2015 Bear Gallery, 30th Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition, Fairbanks, AK
2015 Alaska Native Arts Foundation, Scape: a place of mind, Anchorage, AK
2014 Bear Gallery, Limited Edition, Fairbanks, AK
2014 Bear Gallery, 29th Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition, Fairbanks, AK
2014 Well Street Art Company, Well Street United, Fairbanks, AK
2014 Well Street Art Company, Four Painters, Fairbanks, AK
2012 Well Street Art Company, Group Invitational, Fairbanks, AK
2008 Bear Gallery, 23rd Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition, Fairbanks, AK
2003 Bear Gallery, 18th Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition, Fairbanks, AK
2022 3rd Place, Bear Gallery, Fairbanks Arts Association’s Spring Juried Exhibition; Entanglement
2021 2nd Place, Bear Gallery, Fairbanks Arts Association’s Spring Juried Exhibition: Vivid
2021 Virtual Artist Residency, Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, AK
2019 Honorable Mention, Bear Gallery, Annual Spring Juried Show: Adaptation
2018 Jared Baker “Gutsy Art Award”, Bear Gallery, 33rd Annual 64th Parallel Juried Exhibition
2018 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award
Francesca Du Brock, Chief Curator, Anchorage Museum, “Colleen Firmin Thomas on Painting as a Process of Reflection and Transformation”, Anchorage Museum
Erica Watson, “Home and Wholeness, Quill and Fur”, 49 Writers
Marc Lester, “Native Voices,” Alaska Beyond, 42 no. 7 (July 2018): 90