The Alaska State Museum is preparing a large exhibit exploring the history of textiles developed over the past two centuries by Alaska Natives and First Nations of the Northwest Coast–primarily Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian weavers. Six weavers, most representing these tribes, were selected to serve as project advisors, and in April 2019, met in Juneau to discuss the scope of the exhibition. 

Janice Criswell (Haida), Lily Hope (Tlingit), Lani Hotch (Tlingit), Evelyn Vanderhoop (Haida), Marie Oldfield (Tsimshian), along with Kay Parker and Steve Henrikson (ASM Curator) held two days of fruitful discussions concerning the topics to be covered in the exhibit (opening May 2020) display, and a look at the “ravenstail” and “naaxein” (aka “Chilkat”) weavings in the museum collection. Since this was a rare opportunity for weavers to discuss the history and importance of their art, the proceedings were taped and transcribed to preserve the information for future generations of weavers.

stories from project advisors
I first saw Ravenstail Weaving while taking a two week basketry class from Delores Churchill at the University of Alaska in Juneau. I was struggling along with my basket and noticed the class across the hall was doing a kind of finger twining that I had never seen before. As the weeks progressed, their weavings became more beautiful, and my basket, well, it was coming along. By the end of the class, I was in love with the patterns the weavers “across the hall” had woven and anxious for a class.

It took two years before I could take a Ravenstail class and during that time, “The Raven’s Tail” by Cheryl Samuel was my bedside book. When my chance to learn Ravenstail weaving finally came, I hit the ground running- weaving every educational project I could find and every pattern that I could graph. I was then able to participate in the weaving of the “Hands Across Time” robe at the Alaska State Museum. And so began my weaving story.

Ravenstail weaving has been my passion, pastime and entertainment for the past 29 years. I am very excited about the upcoming Northwest Coast Weaving Exhibit in Juneau which will highlight the amazing art forms known as Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving.

The genre of Northwest coast textiles has been underrepresented in museum exhibitions as well as in manuscript. I feel a comprehensive exhibit of ancient robes as well as contemporary textiles together with clan stories, research and technique demonstrations can give a fuller understanding of this art that was and still is very important to the cultural practices of the three major groups in Southeast Alaska; Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.

As the Haida representative within the co-curator team, I bring my research, weaving and teaching to this exhibit and with the other curators we will be able to make distinctions that are unique to our perspective groups. Though this manner of curating I feel this future exhibit will be uniquely informative to weavers, future weavers and the interested public.