Project: ArtShops 2016 Grass Sewers of Naknek
Alaska State Council on the Arts Partnership
Story and Photo by: Anna Hoover, ArtShop leader

The ArtShops program is a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and The CIRI Foundation’s A Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native Arts and Culture grant program. Established in 2016, ArtShops support emerging Alaska Native arts leaders to develop their skills in leading community-based arts programs.

When the Grass is Ripe – As experienced Grass Sewers of Naknek, 2016

For generations, Marilyn Hansen has, through many facets, learned and taught grass basket sewing in our community. This time around The CIRI Foundatoin (TCF) and Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) were responsible for making it possible. We had a full class ranging in age from late 20’s to late 70’s most of which had no experience prior. We did not have seasoned grass in our community for us to use, so I flew to Twin Hills to meet with Master Sewer Loulare Moore to buy grass from her to use for our class.

We felt it was important to learn the entire process, from gathering and prepping materials to planning your project and executing it. This would mean in the future we would have the materials necessary to sew baskets made with grass from our beaches. Marilyn descried to us, which grass to harvest, when and how. And one of the highlights of learning how to sew a grass basket was being out on the land harvesting material.

We had been ready for a while to go picking, but Marilyn made sure we waited until the grass was ready. Thanks to the first freeze the grass was finally golden brown and ripe, a weather window presented itself, so we got moving. We dressed for the weather and took a lovely plane ride to an ideal patch of wind and salt water swept beach grass. We picked for a couple hours, some wishing they could stay longer.

The camaraderie we shared didn’t stop there; together we went and had hot tea and lunch and smiled and laughed and told stories from our afternoon together and other afternoons we were reminded of.

Following our excursion I had multiple phone calls and text messages from participants regarding the picking outing and how much they were invigorated by it. Elders commented on how this activity is a good representation of a way to access strong mental health for our people; and how addicted members of our community could benefit from taking part in such activities. Another great result was that many of us, our instructor included, are continuing to meet and sew baskets together.