Project: ArtShops 2017
Alaska State Council on the Arts Partnership
Written by: Lily Hope, ArtShops participant
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.
Our ArtShop grew from a 1986 apprenticeship between master weaver Jennie Thlunaut, and her apprentice (my mother), Clarissa Rizal. For six weeks they each wove a Chilkat face side by side. Continuing on, Clarissa wove eleven robes in her lifetime, and taught hundreds to Chilkat weave, always ensuring the spiritual teachings from Jennie were also passed down. In late 2017, Clarissa passed away after an intense battle with cancer. She left me holding my weft strands, with my first robe only half completed. I felt lost, abandoned, alone. I wasn’t sure how I could finish my robe without her. Then I found her woven face from 1986, and surprisingly, Jennie’s matching woven face. I knew I could weave again, if I could carry my mother’s and Jennie’s legacy on, continuing to share the teachings. If I had learned anything from these masters, I knew we weavers create our best when supported by one another. I applied for the ArtShop grant to gather seasoned and newbie weavers together, to weave once monthly from June to November, with our work culminating in a group show. We quickly realized we couldn’t weave Chilkat faces in 50 hours. Clarissa and Jennie wove for over 250 hours together! We started meeting once every weekend. Many weavers worked outside of gathering times, FaceTiming with me, messaging me, sending me photos for check-ins. It was invigorating, and heartening. We all felt Clarissa and Jennie with us and called on them to help us when we got stuck.
After five months of weaving together, we recognized that most of us would not complete our faces by the art show deadline, so we made a bold choice to share the works in paused form, wherever our fingers left off. The show was a hit. We started the show with a hand-spun mountain goat and cedar bark warp hung with only one row woven, and ended with 8 beautifully finished Chilkat faces. Patrons loved seeing the works in progressive progress, and left with a deeper appreciation for the intensity and complexity of Chilkat weaving.
We grew as artists, as humans, embracing apprehensions in Chilkat weaving, finding balance in our lives when all we wanted to do was weave, building comradery and continuing this art form that has been practiced for centuries. We have 16 new Chilkat weavers in Southeast Alaska, and a new community of weavers because of this ArtShop grant.
We, the descendants of the masters, will ensure Chilkat weaving far into the future. We are grateful to The CIRI Foundation (TCF) for supporting our ArtShop program.