By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 2015 Artists in Business Leadership Fellow
We never create alone.
Three a.m. — Clarissa Rizal (Tlingit) finished the last weaving kit with her helpers for the class coming at 9 a.m. These kits made for an easier start on a historic project.
In ancient days, Chilkat-Ravenstail robes were cut apart, the pieces given to tribal leaders. Now, woven pieces come together in a healing ceremonial robe. New beginnings pieced together.
This robe, called Weavers Across the Water, was deservedly displayed at the 2016 award show for the National Endowment of the Arts, where Clarissa received a National Heritage Fellowship.
On the world stage, well-practiced fingers spun and wove as Clarissa demonstrated this art. The robe was brought out, swaying gently on the rack. Its beauty, purity, graciousness, love and peace connected all who viewed this creation.
But Clarissa didn’t create it alone. Over fifty Northwest Coast (NWC) Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers donated their carefully woven squares to become a part of the Weavers Across the Water robe. It’s a Chilkat-Ravenstail ceremonial robe for a dignitary to wear while hosting a community NWC Canoe Gathering. And to be worn during maiden launches of traditional dugout canoes in Washington state, British Columbia, southeast Alaska, and Yukon Territory.
The idea for this monumental project came on a whim, a conversation between Clarissa and a fellow weaver that grew into the Weavers Across the Waters robe. The true honor for Clarissa came from holding each priceless square in her hand. The squares represent symbols of the canoe world — nature, animals, mankind. Mountains, ocean, rivers, lakes, canoes, paddles, faces, claws. The squares were made by people who treasure the ancient skill of weaving. They came together to create healing.
With this project, Clarissa continues to fulfill a promise to her mentor, the late Jennie Thlunaut, to help revive Chilkat weaving. The robe honors tradition and is a culmination of all that has been before. This generation is the legacy of those who came before them.
As Clarissa says, we never create alone.
Weavers who have contributed to the robe are Della Cheney, Suzi Williams, Lily Hope, Vicki Soboleff, Margaret Woods, Veronica Ryan, Catrina Mitchell, Chloe French, Annie Ross, Stephany Andersen, Karen Taug, Dolly Garza, Nila Rinehart, Teahonna James, Ursala Hudson, Edna Lamebull, Courtney Jensen, Sandy Gagnon, Kay Parker, Marilee Petersen, Alfreda Lang, Georgia Bennett, Willie White, Pearl Innes, Koosnei Rainy Kasko, John Beard, Joyce Makua, Michelle Gray, Gabrielle George, Sally Ishikawa, Darlene See, Douglas Gray, Peter McKay, Shgen George, Debra O’Gara, Marsha Hotch, Irene Lampe, Davina Barrill, Yarrow Vaara, Mary Ebona Miller, and Clarissa Rizal.