Piece to be part of institute’s permanent collection
June 26, 2020
A well-known Tlingit weaver donated a remarkable Chilkat mask to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) this week at a ceremony in SHI’s clan house.
Juneau artist Lily Hope wove the mask as a nod to the Coronavirus pandemic using an ancient art practice in a new way. The piece, Chilkat Protector Mask, is a work of fine art that will go into the institute’s permanent collection and tell the story of the virus through the Native world view for many years to come, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“This mask—made of ancient Chilkat weaving but adapted to new purposes to ward off this new virus—is a symbol of our cultural strength,” Worl said at the ceremony. “During the 1918 flu pandemic, our ancestors who were stricken by an unknown disease crawled away from our village along the Chilkoot River so they would not infect their families.”
“We too are taking care of our families by isolating and wearing masks.”
Hope spent about 60 hours weaving the mask, not including the hand-dying of the bright yellow material and the spinning of the warp, which also take a considerable amount of time.
“As I began the mask, I realized how perfect it was to use the Chilkat techniques to record history, as we have been recording clan stories, migrations and histories for hundreds of years through weaving,” Hope said.
Hope said she donated the mask to SHI in gratitude for the institute’s support of her art and continued artistic growth. She especially wanted to honor Worl and to have her accept the mask on behalf of SHI, as Worl’s grandmother, the famous Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut, taught Hope’s mother, Clarissa Rizal, Chilkat weaving techniques, and Rizal taught Hope to weave.
“It is as though our families are still being woven together,” Hope said.
The mask was gifted to SHI at a ceremony marking the first dance of a Chilkat robe made by Hope for a client. Elizabeth Hope, the eldest daughter of Lily and Ishmael Hope, held up the mask during the ceremony while wearing the Chilkat robe.
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world, and it is unique to Northwest Coast cultures. Chilkat weavings 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, and the process of harvesting the goat and bark and processing the materials were also complex and laborious tasks.
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: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Elizabeth Hope holding up the Chilkat Protector Mask at a ceremony; SHI President Rosita Worl holding the mask after it was gifted to the institute at a ceremony. Photos by Sydney Akagi Photography, courtesy of Lily Hope. For high-resolution images, contact email@example.com.