Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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Chilkat Weaving Tour Part 1: Whitehorse, Y.T.

August 23rd, 2013 by Clarissa

L to R: Clarissa Rizal, Teahonna James, Vanessa Morgan, Crystal Rogers, and local beginner weaver Stefanie Sidney from Whitehorse

Last Summer/Fall 2012, three apprentices learned a bit of weaving in my studio in Colorado:  Vanessa Morgan from Kincolith, Nass River B.C., Crystal Rogers from Juneau, Alaska, and Teahonna James from Durango, Colorado, her family originally from Klawock, Alaska.  We talked about meeting up again; this time we’d meet in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory beginning with the Adaka Festival mid-June 2013 – (click here to see blog entry on the Adaka Festival).  During the festival, there is a Northwest Coast Native Art Exhibit that is shown only during the length of the one-week festival (click here to see parts of the exhibit).   Included in the exhibit were two Ravenstail robes, a child-size 4-piece Ravenstail dance ensemble and one Chilkat robe.  These woven ceremonial regalia were part of the “Weavers’ Dance” (click here to see this blog entry).

The purpose of our weaving tour:  to recognize, acknowledge and support local weavers of the community, share our knowledge with local weavers of all experience levels within the community,  inspire and secure the next generations of weavers, create a network of weavers wherever they live, educate the general public about Chilkat weaving, and to simply weave together!

Two maps and a calendar grace the walls above Clarissa’s loom in the Weavers’ apartment; one is a map of the Northwest Coast and the other a map of Yukon Territory – please take notice of the “money” chair; this particular sits on a her money!  heeeeeheeeee!

We financed this tour out of our own individual pockets; no funding came from elsewhere.  We did this tour because we were inspired to weave, travel and because we knew there were other weavers out there who wanted our support and wanted us to come visit.  We started our weaving tour in Whitehorse, Yukon during the Adaka Festival weaving class taught by Ann and myself (click here to see photos and story); we rented a Yukon College campus two-bedroom, fully-furnished apartment for the four of us; each splitting the rent and each bringing a mound of food – though Crystal and Teahonna brought more pots and pans and spices and cooking utensils.

Table and floor looms, along with spinning warp supplies and a sewing machine to sew up spinning pads, define this particular space as a weaver’s nest!

We took turns cooking meals and keeping the place half-way decent; but we mostly wove on our projects.  I gave instruction now and then when needed, and we each set our own hours.  There was a drawback for most of us:  no cell phone service (though my Verizon service was excellent), however, we were lucky that we had occasional internet service.

Crystal Rogers puts in the braids for her eyebrows of her child-size Chilkat robe

During our almost 4-week “residency” in Whitehorse, we invited any of the beginning students from the Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving class taught by Ann Smith and myself, held at the Adaka Festival to come on by and weave with us (you may check out the weaving class blog entry by clicking here.)    Alas, only two local women showed up.  The others were busy fishing, berry-picking, etc. – we cannot blame them; they were doing the important stuff like putting up food for winter!

Teahonna spins Chilkat warp

During our month in Whitehorse, we used this apartment as our home base as we took a weekend trip to the Atlin Music Festival in Atlin, B.C., just a 2-hour drive from Whitehorse.  We were invited by Louise Gordon, a member of the Wolf Clan, to her hometown of Atlin, to demonstrate Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving during the Atlin Music Festival, July 12-14.  Check out the blog entry on our weekend jaunt to Atlin by clicking here.

Teahonna splits cedar bark

At the end of our stay in our “luxury” on campus apartment in Whitehorse, we attended Teslin’s “Kus Te Yea – Celebration 2013″ event held July 26-28.  Again we were invited to demonstrate weaving during this wonderful 3-day event.  Check out the blog entry of our own “weaving cabin” during Teslin’s Celebration by clicking here.

The washed warp is tightly-stretched around the back of a wooden chair to dry

Directly after Teslin’s Celebration, we drove down to Skagway and caught the ferry to Haines, Alaska where we were hosted by Lee Heinmiller at the Alaska Indian Arts and we demonstrated weaving at the Sheldon Museum July 30-August 1st.  Check out the blog entry of our visit at the Sheldon Museum in Haines by clicking here.

Click here to read the poem Wayne Price wrote in honor of our mentor, the late Jennie Thlunaut and in honor of our dedication to the preservation and perpetuation of Chilkat weaving

Our weaving tour did not quite “end” in Haines; even now I cannot say that our tour has ended – it’s an on-going adventure.    Vanessa was called home to help with her daughter’s birth of a child (and she will host Crystal who is intending to visit Vanessa and the Nass River for the first time); by ferry, Crystal headed to Prince Rupert, B.C. to meet up with weaver Megan O’Brien; Teahonna ferried to Klawock, Alaska to attend the Klawock Totem Raising, attend a family reunion and met up with weaver Suzi Williams; and I have done and am doing a number of things (i.e. a student during the Jineit Academy’s artist-in-the-schools teacher’s training Aug. 5-9, (click here to read the blog entry on the artists and teachers); picked lots of nagoon berries (click here to see those wonderful berries); hung out with grandchildren and my daughter; a part-time clerk at friend Jan Parrish’s Aurora Healing store located one door up North Franklin Street from Hearthside Books in downtown Juneau (click here for link to Jan’s Alaskana Botanicals); and, helped Juneau weaver Catrina Mitchell start her Ravenstail weavings (you may click here to read that blog entry.)

Vanessa weaves her eyelids

Next?  We are then planning a tentative journey to the Toadlena Trading Post in the Chuska Mountains about 30 miles southwest of Shiprock, New Mexico.  For over 10 years, Mark Winter, Navajo rug “expert” hosts the Navajo weavers’ “Spinning and Carding Day” the third weekend in September.  This is the one day of the year where most if not all of the Navajo weavers in the Two Grey Hills area gather together and begin to prepare the wool for the following winter’s weaving projects. (Click here to find out more info on the Toadlena Trading Post.)

In previous visits on this day, when we have shared our cross-cultural weaving knowledge, we learned that the Navajo and Chilkat weavers had something in common:  we use the same type tool to spin our weft yarns called the “drop spindle.”  We do not use the small drop spindle, we use the longer one where the post of the drop spindle measures from our knee to the floor.  So to enable us to eventually spin our own weft yarns of mountain goat, we want to learn from the Navajo weavers how to use this particular drop spindle.  We are excited to learn this from another indigenous tribe, whose sense of humor is much like ours.

An outline on the white board enables each of us to help reach our goals – down below there is a drawing of how to weave the perfect circle…

Where will be weaving this Winter?  Well, we will spend the Fall in Colorado because it is beautiful, and come Winter, well…that’s still yet to be determined.  Maybe we “Alaska Girls” (as the Canadians call us), will go to Mexico and do a cross-cultural exchange there to learn about dyeing weft yarns, or meet up with the Maori weavers and share weaving techniques.  The “book” is wide open.  Who knows where we will really be in the next month!

Sometimes we shuffle from one “work station” to another – (i.e. weaving loom, to splitting warp or wool, to spinning warp, to baking bread to making dinner, to hanging out on the deck, etc.)

If you are interested in sponsoring us in your community, contact any one of us, and let’s go from there.  Our tentative plans for next Summer are:  directly after Celebration 2014 (June 11-13) in Juneau, Alaska, we will head up to Whitehorse for the annual “Adaka Festival – A celebration of Yukon’s diverse and distinctive First Nation’s arts and culture” where we hope to teach another Chilkat/Ravenstail weaving class during the week.

Vanessa, Clarissa and Ann

After Yukon, we will head to the coast of British Columbia to the towns of Terrace, Kincollith on the Nass, Prince Rupert, Alert Bay, Masset and Haida Gwaii.   We want to network and work with weavers of these communities.  We would like to spend at least 3 days up to a week at each community.  Our intentions are the same as above:  to recognize, acknowledge and support local weavers of the community, share our knowledge with local weavers of all experience levels within the community,  secure the next generations of weavers, create a network of weavers, bring Chilkat weaving appreciation to the general public, and to simply weave together!

We noticed that sunsets in Whitehorse in the peak of Summer take about hours to set, but not really cuz the sun just swings itself back up into the sky, so what do weavers do on their breaks? They take photographs of lingering sunsets!

We will be looking for funding sources to assist with our travel expenses (gas, food, lodging, ferry fare).  If you would like to assist in whatever way you know you can help, please contact either one of us (Stefanie, Crystal, Vanessa, Teahonna, Clarissa).  We appreciate your assistance!

Ann instructs Teahonna on the next technique…

Weavers burn a lot of calories – thinking takes a lot of energy, so one of the things that is very important to us is that we eat well…here we see the sponge-method bread rising in a bowl and salad makings off to one side to go along with our salmon frying on the stove. oh yum, when we were done with our tour, did we gain weight or what!?

Having a sunny deck helps “get us out of the house” while we are still working – here Vanessa spins the warp for her child-size robe’s side braids….

Local Whitehorse beginner weaver, Stefanie receives help from both sides, Vanessa and Crystal

Securing our next generation of weavers: Crystal Rogers, Lily Hope, Stefanie Sidney

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