A Journey To What Matters- Learning From Our Elders

Project: Journey of Artistic Exploration
Grantee: Bethel Council of the Arts
Story by: Laura Ellsworth

There were 14 students lined up and ready to go on the first day of the Nasqurrun (headdress) sewing class at the UAF Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel. The students were young, and some, a bit older. A few in the class had recently relocated to Bethel from down states. Others were born and raised in Bethel, or one of the surrounding villages. But all were here to learn how to sew their own Nasqurrun. And by the end of the three-day workshop they did! Julia Nevak, of Toksook Bay, was the primary instructor, and her daughter, Agnes McIntyre, translated the Yup’ik instructions into English for the students. The mother/daughter duo co-taught the class in an easy, gentle manner. As the students huddled around the instructors, they learned by first simply watching.

They watched Julia’s hands. They saw what parts of the fur she used to make her cuts. They watched how she used the uluaq, and how to line up the pieces. Then, they started creating their own pieces. They took breaks to eat when they needed them. Salmon spread, pilot bread, homemade jam, akutaq, and casseroles all seemed to appear in the classroom each day. The students were bringing it in – potluck style. Strangers became friends as students shared, stories, laughter, and food.

Each student went home with a beautiful Nasqurrun, made by their own hands. They also went home with the knowledge of how to create more in the future. Some of students were interested in making Nasqurruns for their daughters to use in the local Camai Festival. Others started creating them to sell at the local Saturday Markets and other local craft sales.

In the end the only question remaining was, “When’s the next class?”