“I want to bring our people back to the true beginning of the Chilkat craft.”
Anna Brown Ehlers is Northern Tlingit from the Jilkaat Kwaan (Chilkat region/tribe) and has been a Chilkat weaver for more than 23 years. The Chilkat art form is held in the highest esteem among First Peoples and is considered one of the most honored traditional professions among the Tlingit. A Chilkat blanket or tunic, a most valued possession, is a five-sided ceremonial robe with stylized Tlingit formline crest designs surrounded by yellow and black borders. A traditional blanket requires wool from approximately three mountain goats, which are difficult to hunt, and the inner bark from the yellow cedar trees. Standard Chilkat blankets take up to two years to complete while tunics average one year. Anna has created 10 blankets in her career as a master weaver, has taught over 100 people the art of Chilkat weaving, and has given her community woven bags and wall hangings for fundraisers.
The resurgence of Chilkat weaving in the Native community necessitates the need for weaving materials, particularly a native source for the Chilkat warp. The Chilkat warp is traditionally made of yellow cedar bark and mountain goat wool. “Gathering the yellow cedar bark in the woods, separating the inner layer from the outer rough bark, and discarding the bark in the woods back to nature is in itself a calming, spiritual experience,” says Ehlers. Anna is working to help Chilkat weavers return to the roots of this tradition craft, become self-sufficient in securing the weaving materials and not reliant on non-Native suppliers.
Anna used her grant to help Chilkat weavers return to the roots of this traditional craft, to become self-sufficient in securing the weaving materials, and not reliant on non-Native suppliers. Over the course of her grant period, she escorted her students north of her home in Juneau, Alaska to gather and process yellow spruce in a traditional manner. She is currently working with the same weavers to take the mountain goat wool from the hide and spin it with the yellow cedar strips to create the Chilkat warp. “The cedar bark and goat are from the earth, it is to be utilized by us, skipping this vital step of preparing the warp for oneself is shortchanging the artist from a vital link,” says Ehlers.
Pete Peterson, Sr. is a living cultural treasure, a master carver and elder of the Skokomish Tribe. He has dedicated more than thirty years of his life to the preservation of traditional Northwest Coastal Salish art forms. Supporters and peers world-wide recognize, respect and revere him as a ‘great artist’, one who is knowledgeable about the art form, is willing to share that knowledge with others, and has the ability to translate that knowledge. He was honored in 1980 for returning the bentwood box to the Skokomish community – an art form and cultural tradition that had been lost for more than one hundred years. He has since supported numerous apprentices for the Skokomish people and other tribal communities.
For his project Pete has mentored Skokomish youth in traditional carving and bentwood box construction. The Skokomish youth created four traditional Salish panels for the Tuwaduq Family Services Healing Garden. He intends to continue to pass on these critical cultural skills and motivate the apprentices to continue the work and pass it forward.
“This has always been my expectation and my goal. This is the traditional way and it is the way traditional art is advanced. This is the way I share with my community; precisely as I have for years. This is my passion,” says Peterson, Sr.
Arthur Short Bull is a brilliant watercolorist whose vision strives to capture the spirit of his Oglala heritage. He has spent the last 14 years attempting self-sufficiency as an artist and gallery owner. “What I hope to achieve through my work is to help others see and experience the spirit that exists in all things,” states Short Bull.
Arthur’s project involves utilizing his Wounded Knee series of paintings and poems as a vehicle to promote Lakota culture and history. He intends to develop this series as an educational tool to reach out to the Native community, primarily the youth, to increase their knowledge of Native history, especially in regards to Wounded Knee.
In May 2006, Arthur opened his exhibit at Haskell University, engaging his viewers with thoughtful questions and insights. The exhibition then moved to the Sioux Indian Museum in December 2007, and in January 2007, to schools on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota.
“This project about the Wounded Knee massacre produces feelings of guilt and shame in the non-Indian population. It produces feelings of pain in Native people. My commercial work alleviates those feelings,” asserts Short Bull.
Mississippi Choctaw / Chickasaw
Oklahoma City, OK
Nancy Johnson is a Mississippi Choctaw/Chickasaw artist who creates traditional and contemporary forms of Cheyenne-style beadwork and functional rawhide pieces. More than 10 years ago, she turned her love of beadwork from a hobby to creating stunning, vibrant gallery quality pieces. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the El Reno Indian Health Service in El Reno, Oklahoma where she blends artistry and cultural teachings for the Cheyenne and Arapaho community as a means of promoting holistic health and wellness. She combines traditional song, story-telling methods and traditional counseling techniques to enable community members to experience another way to overcome their fears, anxiety, stress, and depression. She co-founded the 2000 and 2002 “Winter Camp” art shows at the Oklahoma National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
“There appears to be a holistic blending of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of self that are revealed in the wonderful, imaginative and beautiful pieces of Native American art created by traditional artists. I have heard a friend speak of the natural progression influences in our lives that affect our individual concepts of balance and harmony that are innately reflected in our daily lives. I see this concept of natural progression in the competed pieces of traditional art that I create.
I find that within this natural progression comes individual recognition, understanding, and enhanced respect of one’s culture that causes and allows me, as an artist, to express my creativity with peace and satisfaction.”
Nancy’s project has been two-fold. After using her grant to purchase a digital camera and computer, she and her mentor, Frank Sheridan, traveled to museums to research, photograph, and archive historic Cheyenne beadwork. Nancy then traveled to remote, rural Cheyenne communities and shared the slide show that Resulted from her research with beadworkers and elders living in those communities. Nancy, with Frank’s guidance, is now finishing two Cheyenne Dog Soldier Society sashes the design of which she based on a sash in the collections of the Denver Art Museum. The sashes will be gifted to the Dog Soldier Society in ceremony, thus playing an instrumental role in reviving a tradition lost during the 19th century.