Program effort to perpetuate endangered Northwest Coast art form

Steve Brown teaching Juneau horn-spoon carving class on Friday, August 31. (Photo by Sydney Akagi)

Sealaska Heritage Institute kicks off the first horn-spoon carving class in Juneau, in Sitka September 7 to 10

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is kicking off a horn-spoon carving class in Juneau today in an effort to save the ancient but endangered Northwest Coast art practice.

SHI sought funding for the program, which the institute also will offer in Sitka and Ketchikan, after artists at a regional gathering sponsored by SHI in 2015 identified horn-spoon carving as an endangered art practice and a priority, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

Very few artists know how to make these spoons, and its difficult to even acquire goat horns, which was the traditional material used. Our goal is to nurture a new generation of artists in the region who know how to make these spoons, which were an integral part of our ceremonies, Worl said.

The four-day workshop will be taught by Northwest Coast art expert Steve Brown and focus primarily on molding the horn into the traditional horn-spoon shape. Because of the rarity of goat horns, students will use similar horns from bulls and sheep. As part of its public policy program, SHI has also initiated efforts to ensure that Alaska Natives have access to natural resources such as mountain goat horns to continue their ancient practice to make mountain goat horn spoons.

The class will kick off today in the Walter Soboleff Building and move to Gajaa Hít in Indian Village from Saturday to Monday. The Sitka workshop is scheduled Sept. 7-10 with teacher Tommy Joseph, and the Ketchikan workshop is scheduled Sept. 21-24 with teacher Steve Brown.

The program is part of SHIs effort to make Juneau the Northwest Coast Capital of the world and to designate Northwest Coast art a national treasure.

Carved goat-horn spoon in SHI’s ethnographic collection. (Photo by Brian Wallace)

About Carved Goat-Horn Spoons

Traditional carved goat-horn spoons were far more than utilitarian objects. They played a vital role in ceremonies and social functions and served as elaborate records of important events. From Worl:

I remember seeing plain horn spoons stacked in an empty coffee can on my clan grandfathers kitchen table in Klukwan, but rarely did I see carved ceremonial spoons. Like other traditional regalia and objects that did not find their way to museums or private collections, those that remained in the possession of the Tlingit were generally stored away and brought out only on ceremonial occasions. Our traditional ceremonies, or ̱ku.éex, had not been outlawed like those of our Canadian brothers and sisters. However, until the late 1960s, our ceremonies were held hidden from the disapproving eyes of Westerners. Our parents had grown up during a period when religious and civil authorities discouraged them from practicing our ancient customs and using our at.óow or clan objects.

Our clan members created these beautiful and powerful spoons to feed their spiritual guests during sacred rites. At ceremonies, the host clan desirous of honoring its ancestors is able to transfer food to them through their presentations to guest clan members. When the sacred spoon enters the mouth of the ceremonial guest, the ancestors of the host clan receive the gift of food. Spiritual and social balance is achieved. Members of the opposite moietiesEagle and Raven clansare united, and through the presentation of at.óow or clan objects from both the host and guest clans, Eagle and Raven spiritual guests meet and join with their living descendants.

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.

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