Origins Limited Edition Print on Wood
Being in the presence of old pieces of regalia is magic. I can feel the presence of the old people who wore these pieces. I can sense the tales of joy and of pain; the occasions of celebration and of mourning. I can envision their dancing and can hear the old music embedded in each piece. For Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast, we believe that these pieces have energy. These pieces have life.
The creation of woven chilkat regalia was a many-step process combining the shared energies of both women and men. Hunters would harvest as many as seven mountain goats to provide the wool for each ceremonial robe. Women would take that wool and—along with the inner bark of a cedar tree—would card and spin the hundreds of yards of warp for each piece. Skilled male artists painted formline designs onto wooden pattern boards. Trained female weavers would then weave those designs using dyed black, yellow, blue/green and white weft. Chilkat weaving is nothing short of miraculous: using only the tension of the weaver’s hands, she would transform yarn into the curvilinear patterns of the coast. In my mind, there is no more regal garment than a woven chilkat robe.
In 2015, chilkat weaver Meghann O’Brien asked me to make a cleaned up pattern based on an apron held in Washington DC. This was no ordinary apron, however. It held stories embedded in its construction. In the old days, it was a sign of a great chief to be able to cut up one of his valuable robes to distribute to his esteemed guests. This apron was constructed from three of these pieces after such a giveaway. In order to make a good pattern for Meg, I made educated guesses based on intact robes to recreate what the blanket may have looked like before being deconstructed and reassembled as an apron. It was from this reconstruction, that I then approximated what the original pattern board may have looked like. This is Origins.
Original pattern board with classic “Diving Whale” design painted in mid to late 1800s-> Original robe woven-> Cut and distributed at potlatch-> Reassembled as apron -> Collected in 1891 -> Held by the National Museum of the American Indian -> Digitally redrawn as complete robe in 2015-> Digitally deconstructed as apron pattern -> Meghann O’Brien’s “The Spirit of Shape” is woven from 2015 to 2018 -> “Origins” Pattern Board design is made bringing the design full circle in 2021.
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