Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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The Inspiration That Lead to Weaving Chilkat Robes

March 29th, 2013 by Clarissa

Clarissa and Ann Smith enjoy one anothers’ company at the Grand Opening of the Kwaanlin Dun Cultural Center during the annual Adaka Festival, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory – 2012

Whenever I begin weaving a Chilkat robe, I give thanks to Ann Smith, Kwaanlin Dun Wolf Clan from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  I am remembering a life-turning conversation and experience I had with her.   While it is true Jennie Thlunaut taught me how to weave Chilkat, and I will forever be thankful for the gift Jennie entrusted to me; it was Ann who inspired me to weave Chilkat robes.

In 1992, during a month-long Chilkat Weavers’ Gathering hosted by Darlene See, Ann was beginning the weaving of her first robe; she had the top 6 inches or so of the border completed.  I hadn’t woven a Chilkat robe yet.  At the time, I had no desire to weave Chilkat robes; I imagined myself on the path of weaving smaller pieces that accentuated modern-day clothing – yokes, cuffs, collars, lapels, etc.

I asked Ann why she wanted to weave robes at a time when it seemed like people didn’t appreciate them, much less even know how much time and dedication this type of weaving takes.  She replied calmly and quietly “…Clarissa…it’s like this…we have to re-educate our people of not just the design and technique of weaving,…we have to educate them of the value…we have lost our knowledge of this art form and we have to gain back so much more than just that…”   I added with a big sigh:  “…well, Ann, that is a big task for us to tackle, don’t you think…?”  To which she replied:  “…well, that’s a choice we make.  We are at a place in our lives where we can make that difference.  What better choice to make than to be of service to our people who need this kind of strength in our lives…”

I asked her about working on a weaving that takes at least a year to make; like why would anyone want to work on something that took so long to make?  Ann added:  “…it’s the spirit of the thing…it’s the feeling that comes over me as I weave…it’s like this time-less connection of time immemorial that is happening at the same time…it feels as though all my relations are here with me, as though every Chilkat weaver that ever lived is standing behind me as I weave, watching, guiding and supporting me…”  Ann motioned for me to sit down and weave on her robe.  (Now that I have woven several Chilkat and Ravenstail robes, when a weaver invites you to weave on her robe, THAT is an honor!)  I wove a few stitches on the border of her robe, maybe a total of 10 inches…when suddenly, I felt a power come over me, I felt a presence of many but I could not place my finger on it…I experienced the essence of what Ann spoke of!

Ann apprenticed with me in Chilkat weaving from 1992 to 1996.  She is one of the most finest weavers I’ve ever known.  Her finery too is woven in the manner in which she lives her life and guides her family and people.  Over the years, I have sought her counsel in matters of relationships, art and business.  She lead me to weave Chilkat robes; it changed my life in many more ways than one.  Gunalcheesh, Ann!

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