Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Family Gives "One-of-a-Kind" Chilkat Robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute

Robe woven circa late 1800s-early 1900s
A family from Seattle has given a valuable, ancient Chilkat robe to the Sealaska Heritage Institute in an effort to return it to its ancestral home and repatriate it to tribal people. Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. The donors, who wish to remain anonymous,could instead have sold the robe for thousands of dollars to a private collector ('Family Gives "One-of-a-Kind" Chilkat Robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute'  SitNews August 07, 2017 ).
The process of donating the blanket started when a daughter in the donating family noticed a similar blanket in her AP art history textbook. It was featured there as an important cultural piece as well as significant in the history of art. She then vigorously (and successfully) lobbied her parents to return it to its appropriate owners, the family wrote. [...] The donors purchased the robe in the 1990s, and at the time, an opinion on the piece was offered by Bill Holm, a nationally-recognized expert on Northwest Coast art and formline design. Holm in 1995 estimated it was made around the turn of the century or perhaps in the early 1900s and noted it was very similar to two robes featured in the book The Chilkat Robe by George T. Emmons. Emmons thought the robes in the book depicted an osprey or thunderbird standing with outspread wings, but the noted anthropologist John Swanton believed they depicted a beaver with alder - its food, Holm wrote. Holm said he tended to favor the interpretation of a bird, rather than a beaver, but that “either interpretation can be defended.” A Northwest Coast art expert who studied a photo of the robe on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s behalf thought it might depict a Raven because the beak is not curved.  [...] Holm also noted that the robe was in good condition and showed little fading. [...] The robe will be stored in Sealaska Heritage’s climate-controlled vault and made available to weavers for study.  
'Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy 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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