Sealaska Heritage releases how-to videos for endangered art practices

Lindblad Expeditions videographer Eric Wehrmeister videotapes master weaver Delores Churchil harvesting spruce roots in Juneau for SHI’s new series on how to weave.Photo courtesy: Sealaska Heritage Institute

Project effort to perpetuate spruce-root weaving, horn spoon carving

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has released a series of videos on how to weave spruce-root baskets and make horn spoons, both ancient but endangered Northwest Coast art practices.

The videos are posted online and feature instructors Delores Churchill and her students on weaving and Steve Brown on horn spoon carving. The program is part of SHI’s effort to perpetuate the practices, which were identified as endangered by Northwest Coast artists at a gathering sponsored by the institute in 2015, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“Our people knew how to make beautiful spruce-root baskets so tightly woven they held water. Our people created exquisite and elaborately carved horn spoons that were used in our sacred ceremonies, but the knowledge on how to make them was almost lost. These videos are so informative and detailed they will ensure the knowledge is passed to future generations of artists,” Worl said.

The processes were documented during SHI’s mentor-apprentice workshops in 2018.

The spruce-root apprenticeship was sponsored by the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund, and Lindblad Expeditions volunteered to videotape every step, including how to harvest, coil, roast, split and dye the roots; how to start a basket, turn a corner and weave the sides; and how to make designs using false embroidery with maiden hair fern and grass. Other clips show the math and planning involved in creating a basket and interviews with Churchill on such topics as the differences in basket weaving styles between the Tlingit, Haida, Metlakatla Tsimshian and Coastal Tsimshian people. The steps are taught by Churchill and her students, including Jennie Wheeler, Hans Chester, Kathy Marvin, Marry Knutsen, Trevan Skan, Kayla Williams, Angel Pink and Deborah Head.

“We are so grateful to Lindblad Expeditions for reaching out to us and helping to produce this incredible series. Lindblad offered to donate the services of one of their videographers to capture aspects of SHI’s spruce-root mentor-apprenticeship, and the work they did will ensure that this knowledge—conveyed by Delores, the master weaver herself—will not be lost,” Worl said.

The horn spoon videos were produced by G-Force Productions and show the tools that are used when creating the objects and how to soak, smooth, cut, thin out, mold and bend a spoon. The series includes an interview with Brown on the history of horn spoons and how the practice died off and was revitalized.

The links are available on SHI’s Vimeo site and its art resources page at www.sealaskaheritage.org.

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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