Project: Weaving a Yup’ik Issran
Grantee: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska
Story by: Dawn Biddison

Photo: Grace Anaver teaches Tenaya Bell how to twine the bottom of an issran (grass carrying-bag), checking their work against a photo on Tenaya’s cell phone of the pattern Grace drew. Photo by Jacki Cleveland, courtesy of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska.

In 2019, the Alaska office of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center partnered with Qanirtuuq Inc. and Quinhagak Heritage Inc. to research and document in their village the Yup’ik tradition of weaving an issran, a grass carrying-bag made with an open-weave twining technique that is rare today. Local artist Grace Anaver joined the team as lead artist, under the guidance of her older sister Pauline Beebe and assisted by her younger sister Sarah Brown. Locally harvested taperrnaq (coarse seashore grass) was gathered and processed for drying and curing in July, and grass from the previous fall was dyed.

In August, Grace taught Yup’ik grass weavers and learners how to twine an issran in the Nunalleq Culture & Archaeology Center, where they studied ancestral twined weavings from the 700-year old Nunalleq archaeological site. The workshop participants were Tenaya Bell, Jacki Cleveland, Grace Mark, Anna Roberts, Dora Strunk, Larissa Strunk, Lonnie Strunk and Meta Williams. The collaborative work resulted in a set of eleven videos – Material Traditions: Weaving a Yup’ik Issran (Grass Carrying-Bag) – that includes detailed information, instructions and demonstrations from start to finish. 

You can find the videos online on the “Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska” site on the Learning Lab platform at in the Community Videos section.

“Everybody has an art in them. It’s good for the soul. It’s good for the mind. Grass bags are wonderful. It is time-consuming, but then it’s a fun and enjoyable art in itself. And it’s rewarding.”

Grace Anaver (Yup’ik)
Project Lead Artist

“They shared how the bag was made from our ancestors, and I’m glad that I learned it because it doesn’t have to die out.”

Tenaya Bell (Yup’ik)
Workshop Student
Alumni ・ Recipient ・ Participant

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