Project part of effort to increase number of Chilkat weavers
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a Chilkat weaving intensive and a dancing-of-the-robes ceremony as the culmination of a two-year project envisioned and led by the award-winning Chilkat weaver Lily Hope.
The project is part of an effort to increase the number of people who can complete Chilkat robes, which are considered an endangered art form.
Hope, the daughter of the renowned Chilkat weaver Clarissa Rizal, began weaving and teaching the art form in earnest after her mother’s untimely passing from cancer in 2016. In October 2021, she began mentoring more than 30 students from across the country on how to make child-sized Chilkat dancing robes, starting with thigh-spinning 300 yards of their own warp.
The apprentices will come to Juneau in mid-January for the two-week intensive, during which they will finish weaving and add dance fringe, fur and other finishing touches. The project will culminate in February at the dancing-of-the-robes ceremony, known as the First Dance, which is a key part of letting robes go and easing the sadness that comes with that, Hope said.
“My mother said she was only able to dance one of her eleven robes immediately after cutting it off the loom. She said it was the first and only time that she didn’t fall into a deep depression after the robe went home with its new family,” Hope said. “She compared it to experiencing a grown child moving out. The ceremony and witness (for the weaver) of the first ‘steps’ away from the maker was critical for her to move on to the next great thing without grief.”
Hope taught her apprentices to make child-size robes, as teaching students to make adult-size versions can take many years. Through that process, students gained the knowledge on how to scale future robes to adult size.
Hope estimates that roughly 200 people currently know how to weave a Chilkat circle—one of the most foundational components of Chilkat weaving. Of those, only 10 have completed an adult-sized robe, and just five of them are willing to sell to museums and art collectors outside of Native communities, she said.
The project is significant because Hope has potentially quadrupled the number of weavers who can make adult-sized robes, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the knowledge of Chilkat weaving almost go extinct. We are very proud of Lily for helping to perpetuate this sacred art form and for passing on the knowledge taught to her by Clarissa, who apprenticed with the late master Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut,” said Worl, who is Thlunaut’s granddaughter.
The intensive begins on Jan. 20 in Juneau in partnership with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). The First Dance is scheduled Feb. 1 in SHI’s clan house. The robes will then be featured in a show, For Our Children: Chilkat Regalia Woven in the Lineage of Jennie Thlunaut and Clarissa Rizal, at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum in February. SHI will live stream the First Dance through its YouTube channel.
SHI is providing major funding for the intensive, which includes support for mentor and apprentice fees, travel, housing accommodations, supplies and video and photographic documentation of the intensive and events. Hope’s Chilkat mentorship is supported in part by Friends of Juneau Douglas City Museum, CCTHITA, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation SHIFT: Transformative Change and Indigenous Arts Grant, The CIRI Foundation, Shee Atiká, Inc., Huna Heritage Foundation, Chilkoot Indian Association, SHI and Canada Council for the Arts.
About Lily Hope
Lily Hope was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, to full-time artists. She is Tlingit of the Raven moiety. Following her matrilineal line, she’s of her grandmother’s clan, the T’akdeintaan. She learned Ravenstail weaving from her late mother, Clarissa Rizal, and Kay Parker, both of Juneau. She also apprenticed for over a decade in Chilkat weaving with Rizal who, until her untimely passing in December 2016, was one of the last living apprentices of the late master Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut. Hope is one of few designers of dancing blankets. She teaches both finger-twined styles extensively in person (and virtually since COVID-19), in Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48. She demonstrates internationally and offers lectures on the spiritual commitments of being a weaver. She’s one of six artists in the Smithsonian’s inaugural all Indigenous biennial Renwick Invitational opening in 2023
About Chilkat weaving
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world, and it is unique to Northwest Coast cultures. Chilkat weavings, which function as clan at.óow or ceremonial objects within the Native community, are distinct from other weaving forms in that curvilinear shapes such as ovoids are woven into the pieces. The curved shapes are difficult and very time-consuming to execute, and a single Chilkat robe can take a skilled weaver a year or longer to complete. Traditionally, mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark were used. The process of harvesting the goat and bark and then processing these materials was also complex and laborious. In recent years, Chilkat weaving was considered to be an endangered art practice. A few Native artists mastered the craft and are now teaching it to others, giving hope this ancient practice will survive.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.
CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636, email@example.com.
Caption: Child-sized Chilkat robes woven by Hope’s dearly departed mentors, Jennie Thlunaut and Clarissa Rizal. Photo courtesy of Lily Hope and @sydneyakagiphoto. Note: news outlets are welcome to use this photo for coverage of this story. For a higher-res version, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.