Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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Storing Regalia in Cedar Boxes

March 13th, 2013 by Clarissa

Stained cedar bentwood box carved and painted by Clarissa when she was 16 years old under the tutelage of Peter Bibb, the woodshop teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School. The box was a Mother’s Day gift for her mother, Irene.  After Irene retired, she began doing bead work; within a 15-year period, she had filled the box with beaded  floral and clan emblem pieces.  In celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary, Irene’s beaded pieces were applied to button robes, vests and octopus bags for her children and grandchildren. – A smaller cedar bentwood box sits to the right with a beaded “sailor hat” on top a glass head – Clarissa inherited both hat and box when her grandmother passed in 1976.

In the olden days, cedar bentwood boxes stored our clan regalia.  Cedar boxes are/were the perfect natural insecticide against moths who have appetites for the woolen regalia in the Chilkat, Ravenstail and Button blanket robes and accessories.   Nowadays, many of us use the Rubbermaid plastic tubs for storage, unless of course, you can afford your own work and grace one’s self with carved cedar boxes, or you trade with an artist friend to carve one for you!

When I carved the bentwood box, it was my very first introduction to Northwest Coast Art.  Peter Bibb encouraged a number of us Native students to take up our own art because there were very, very few people still carrying on the traditions.  He provided us Bill Holm’s “Looking at Northwest Coast Art” book, and if I am not mistaken, the design of this box comes from that particular book. ( I don’t know for sure because I eventually gave that book to my son after my mother passed so I don’t have it on hand to confirm design origin.)  Peter kept close watch on my carving; at one time he grinned “…young lady, it looks like you’ve got a natural skill at this…(he chuckled)…who woulda known a little thing like you could do this!?”

When I carved this box for my Mamma, I did not imagine 40 years later I would have it sitting on one of my work tables; it stores woolen yarns as I have begun to learn how to knit.

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