Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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Chilkat Weaving Tour Part 4: Sheldon Museum, Haines, AK

August 4th, 2013 by Clarissa

Flanked by Crystal and Clarissa’s Chilkat weaving looms, Teahonna James weaves on her Chilkat headdress in the upstairs room of the Sheldon Museum in Haines, Alaska

The Sheldon Museum, though small and cozy in comparison to many museums about the country, has quite the collection and display on Chilkat weaving.  In fact, for the first time ever, the weaving exhibit included Tlingit language weaving terms!  I have posted them on a separate blog entry; click here to the link.

Teahonna quietly weaves in the room surrounded by “artifacts” – yet to us, they are “relatives” – they are “related” to us in some form or another, whether it be a tool used by our ancestors, or a map carried by a visitor, or a robe woven by our teacher – there is relativity to us

For several years, I thought it a good thing to learn to speak the weaving terms in our Tlingit language.  I wished I had asked Jennie to teach me the weaving terms but I was too young to even know what to ask.  I watched a documentary on a dugout canoe carved on an island in Lake LaBarge in the Whitehorse area; at one point during the completion ceremony of the canoe, Lance Twitchell a young speaker of Tlingit who taught himself the language not even 10 years ago, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, spoke so eloquently in our Native tongue that even though I didn’t know what he was saying, hearing the language in that moment immediately brought tears to my eyes – he spoke as if he were an elder who has returned to us only to find remnants of a language almost obliterated and he alone with a couple of others are working hard to bring it back.  Lance looked as if he carried this “weight” upon his shoulders.  In that moment, I told myself that when I return to Haines and live there, I will learn my language, and I will begin with the weaving terms so that I may teach it to my students.

Do all Chilkat weavers have long hair? Many do. Clarissa and Crystal have kept their long hair – a trademark of many Tlingit women before the Westerners arrival.

The two Chilkat robes in the background were woven by the last of the traditional Chilkat weavers, the late Jennie Thlunaut; and to the left of the robes, the Ravenstail robe was woven by Lani Strong Hotch from Klukwan

In the left behind Crystal and Clarissa, the small child-size Chilkat robe was woven by Jennie Thlunaut – come to think of it, this may have been her very last Chilkat robe before she passed in July 1986

Because of such beautiful, warm weather, we agreed to demonstrate weaving nearby the totem pole carvers on the last day outside the front entrance to the Sheldon Museum

Nathan Jackson (r) visits Jim Heaton, the master carver of this particular pole (who isn’t pictured but standing to the left), and sculpture artist Matthew Hincman – in the background are singer/composer William Wasden from Alert Bay, B.C. and leader/singer/drummer of the Dahka Kwaan Dancers from Whitehorse, Y.T., Marilyn Jensen

Except for the Swiss-made chisel, these are hand-made carver’s tools

Teahonna spinning warp – She is trying to meet her goal of 300 yards of Chilkat warp so she too can begin weaving a child-size Chilkat robe.

L to R:  William Wasden, Marilyn Jensen, William’s nephew Mark, Clarissa Rizal, Crystal Rogers, Matthew Hincman, Megan Jensen,Jim Heaton, Jim’s carving apprentice Joe (?), Nathan Jackson, and Jim Simard

On the last day of our demonstration, there suddenly was a congregation of familiar visitors and friends who “happened to be in town” – at our request, William Wasden sang a couple of compositions in honor of weaving and in honor of the carvers, especially in honor of local master carver, Nathan Jackson.

After a wonderful last day, we wished we had been demonstrating our weaving outside the other two previous days; we wondered how many other folks we would have reached had we been more exposed.

We wove outside way past the Museum’s closing hours until the sun went behind Mt. Ripinsky

Chilkat weaving has become a way of life.  I see how it has shaped my world views, my connections to people, places and things; it has even made me philosophize more so than ever!  haha!  I see all the relativity of things via Chilkat.  It is something that I want to share with our people.  As with all of us, our time here is limited.  I am a busy woman, constantly.  I am one of a few who makes the time and energy to teach our women.  I want to help bring up the standard of internal living within the minds and hearts of our women.  I have experienced the gift it has brought me and how it has changed me internally.  Chilkat weaving provides an internal strength I had no idea existed.  I want our women to experience this internal strength.  When we strengthen our women, we strengthen the bond of our relationships.  If during her status as a Chilkat weaver that her relationship with her partner goes awry, possibly the integrity of her partner did not match with the strength of Chilkat weaving.  When we strengthen the woman, it is like a rippling effect; the power moves out like a water dropping into the ocean…the weaving strengthens the relationship which in turns strengthen the family unit which in turns strengthens the community, which then strengthens the nation…and the world!

Thank you to my apprentices, Crystal Rogers, Teahonna James, Vanessa Morgan, and the new “groupie” Stefanie Sidney, for coming along for the “ride” – it’s been quite the experience and treat!  Let’s do this again!  Truly, what would a teacher be without her students?

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