For Gwich'in artist Colleen Firmin Thomas, abstract painting helps 'to process the world'

Jul 9, 2021

Colleen Firmin Thomas (Photo by Sarah Lewis Photography)

Gwich’in artist Colleen Firmin Thomas is from Fort Yukon and is known for her abstract paintings. 

In her piece, “Boundaries as Battlelines,” Thomas uses a brush to make vertical stacks of gray and brown. In the gray, porcupine quills and moose fur are placed in a way to demark and mark a boundary between the layers of earthen-colored streaks.

“For me painting is the way to process the world,” she said. “And a way to like I tell people, It's kind of like a therapy.”

Boundaries as Battlelines (Photo courtesy Colleen Firmin Thomas)

Where gray is more prominent, porcupine quills and moose fur is laid toward the horizon acting like a boundary to the mountain-looking void in between.

Thomas has been creating artwork since childhood. She received her bachelors in fine arts at The University of Fairbanks, and has been showcasing her work in a variety of shows since then.

“My work is mostly inspired by nature and language and culture.” 

Her work intertwines traditional painting methods with porcupine quills, fur, and feathers to showcase different intracacy in nature, the life around her -- as well as her own life experiences. 

“In a lot of my paintings that have little circle shapes or like looks like hoops or something,” she said. “And to me, those are represent snares, like in trapping and represent things that can catch you up or to a warning to be aware of what's around you. Even just a reminder that, you know, death is close by.”

In June, The Anchorage Museum selected Thomas to be its virtual artist-in-residence of the month. Her next show will be from August 6th through the 31st at Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks.

To see Thomas’s art online, go to