Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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“No Red in Chilkat Weaving…” Maria Ackerman Miller

April 1st, 2014 by Clarissa

Cheap Chilkat weaving in colors of red (a taboo), black, turquoise and cream — by Clarissa Rizal 1985

30 years ago, when there were less than a handful of weavers, I thought I’d try my hand at Chilkat weaving without an instructor.   I wove this Chilkat sampler using cheap clothesline for warp and commercial 4-ply black, turquoise, cream and red (a taboo) weft yarns.  Instead of using the traditional yellow, I thought red would be nifty because the rest of our traditional artwork uses these same colors, so why not?

According to a Chilkat weaving elder from Haines, Alaska, the late Maria Ackerman Miller warned me not to use red in the weaving  because it signifies the weaver as being egotistical.  Both Maria and the late Jennie Thlunaut said weavers only use red for example in the tongue of a wolf.

Cotton clothesline used as warp for a Chilkat sampler by Clarissa Rizal — 1985

I have never publicly shown this weaving until now.  I’ve hidden it for 30 years and it is now coming out of the closet.  I have reasons for this.   I want to show an example of one of my very first attempts at Chilkat weaving, where I didn’t have some one to help “show me the way” nor receive proper instruction on using fine, traditional materials or to teach me the taboos…yet (not until my apprenticeship with Jennie Thlunaut the following year in 1986).  I show this sampler here also to show any beginner students of Chilkat weaving to have compassion for self as you learn the intricacies of weaving in this style; you WILL become a better weaver — a few of us start out as perfect weavers, others like myself do not!  Not until last year have I felt like I know what I am doing in Chilkat weaving… 30 years later!  hello!

I also wanted to show my tendency to get a big head, especially when I was younger!

Teachings such as the ones I received from Maria Miller Ackerman and Jennie Thlunaut are invaluable; they help keep us on the right “spiritual” path.  Our elders will tell us many things we do not understand, though we have the respect to follow through with their words and their example without question.  In our culture, we do not ask the question “why?”  A respectful Native (or non-Native) person will heed an elder’s lead.

It is good to be humbled now and then.  Sometimes we do get big-headed; we forget the words of our Native mentors, though there are things that bring us back to “who we are.”

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