“Our Work is our Love made visible” — Kahlil Gibran
When awakened by the first light of dawn, my mind filters itself slowly back to this reality while catching up to a body already shaking its legs with enthusiasm to start another day of creating, though dares not because spirit is still in that “delicate time in the in-between” where visions reveal themselves more clearly as I lay quietly, these things “await in the eaves” yet to be created. Those close to me come to understand it is best to leave me alone for up to a half-hour first thing in the morning; disturbing this fragile state of spirit will disrupt the visions of new weavings, new button robes, and new paintings yet to come. It is also a time of communing with those that have long passed, those that I know presently, and those that I will come to know. The things that return with me upon awakening have been manifesting themselves in this reality since birth. Yes, I keep a pen and small notepad on my bedside table.
Creating every day on 6 hours of sleep per night is normal; I’ve been this way all my life. I create from the time I wake up to the time I collapse in bed 18 hours later. My normal is defined as having many things going on at once: there are three weavings on three different looms, a draft for a new Chilkat robe design, a buttonrobe on the sewing table, paintings half complete, and preps for new collages; but wait I still have to respond to an RFP, fish our Alaskan waters and pick the best wild berries in the world to put up for winter, instigate Chilkat gatherings and retreats, conjure up proposals for collaborations with other artists, terrace the driveway, build, draw or sew with my grand-children, draft another artist statement, prepare for storytelling or lectures, rehearse with the band, plant a tree nursery, sew Easter clothing for all the grand-children, etc. These activities “feed” one another, in turn they feed my spirit and I soar. When I soar, it’s contagious; everyone around me soars.
Being a Creator is nothing new; look around at how the Great Creator is in constant state of flux, expansion and chaos. Artists are no different; we are a “chip off the old block.”
Within is a drive where there is no choice but create. If I did not create, little by little I would literally die – ask me how I know. First my spirit would dwindle, then my emotions depressed, subside, and eventually stagnate. Lastly, my body would shrink, the fire light in my eyes would extinguish, and my breath, expire. While in the midst of this decline, we could call this the “walking dead.” Though, as if the drive within would allow this atrocity to happen? No way. I am vision. I am one of millions of visionary vessels from which creation flows, and to add to my blessings, I am born to a landscape, people and culture rich with beauty, diversity, strength and community – gratefully we Tlingit are grounded within the guidance of our ancestral customs, traditions and relations.
Chilkat weaving offers a meditative, spiritual practice similar to repetitive movements in Tai Chi. Woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark, Chilkat weaving allows me to bring order in creative chaos as if the supple, compact twine of the yarns gliding through my fingertips were the pattern of a spider’s web, weaving new paths within the web of the brain, ever expanding to new horizons, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being, which in turn brings internal strength to the weaver; this naturally and gradually affects every relationship she has with others and self in good ways. Ask me how I know. This process and outcome is one of the main reasons why I teach our traditional Chilkat weaving to our women. For nearly 30 years, periodically, I have left my family and the comforts of home to gather, teach and support our generations of weavers. I remind and inspire our women to use their feminine intuition to converge with the realms beyond our seeing eye; in goodness, we help bring the past into the present, and present into future. When our women are healthy and strong, our world within and without, moves towards peace and happiness.
We would believe the warp yarns that hang down on our looms is our “veil between the worlds.” We understand the weaving of a Chilkat face puts us in touch with our ancestors. Quoting fellow Chilkat weaver, Suzi Williams: “…when we weave the eyebrows, expressions are shared; when we weave the eyes, suddenly, we can see into their world and they can see into our world; when we weave the nose, lives breathe into our own keeping us alive and vice versa; and when we weave the mouth, we are able to finally communicate fully…” While we are weaving a Chilkat robe, many of us have expressed the uncanny feeling there is a presence standing invisibly behind us, ever supporting us. It is not until a weaver weaves the ultimate, a Chilkat robe, that she understands and feels the spiritual connection and begins to understand a large aspect of her life’s purpose.
A Chilkat robe is a year in the making. Most of us no longer have the patience to devote this length of time to anything. We live in an instant-gratification world; we are no longer conditioned to sit quietly for 2000 hours as we contemplate our lives, let alone our livelihood. Before Chilkat came to me, I had very little patience. I would not create anything unless I knew I could do it in a day. After learning Chilkat, I gained the art of patience, the way of gratitude, and the act of compassion. The universe opened its doors with a flood of information; the kind of information not definable, yet powerfully written in our Native art, in the ways of our people, and in our commune with nature. When a Chilkat robe is completed, a totem pole raised, or a canoe on its virgin sail, new and old songs are sung with a celebration of dancers and a feast to commemorate the story “written” in our art. Our way is an holistic approach to creating art while documenting our history.