A Journey To What Matters and ASCA Partnership- ARTShops 2019 Unangan Fishskin Boot Workshop

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.

Project: ARTShops 2019 Unangan Fishskin Boot Workshop
Alaska State Council on the Arts Partnership
Story by: Laresa Syverson

At three ARTShop events during the summer and fall of 2019, I shared how to clean and process fish skins to use for sewing projects, with an overarching goal of researching and reclaiming Unangan footwear. After a generous donation of halibut skins from Westward Seafoods for the two fall events, local participants learned how to clean the skins, preserve the skins until ready for sewing, and were given multiple examples of how the drying and manipulating process will give varied results. Participants were given frozen, unprocessed fish skins to take home and use in a project of their own choosing. I am looking forward to having more opportunities to view Unangan footwear in person, forming patterns, and learning the Unangan language for teaching this art.

As I learned more about fish skins and how to use them, I also formed working relationships with local people and organizations. Just like there are many fish in the sea with unique skins that are useful for a variety of purposes, there are uniquely skilled people living in my community. I worked with a voice actor for advertising, the processing plants for different skins, and viewed gut sewing and stitching at our Museum. The ARTShop experience will enrich my creative process and my ability to lead within the community for years to come.