Face coverings are becoming a common sight around Southeast Alaska and the country, but few look anything like the Chilkat mask just donated to Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Juneau artist Lily Hope, a well-known Tlingit weaver, wove the mask as a nod to the cornoavirus pandemic using an ancient art practice in a new way, SHI announced. The piece, “Chilkat Protector Mask,” is a work of fine art that will go into the institute’s permanent collection and tell the story of the virus through the Native world view for many years to come, said SHI President Rosita Worl in a news release.
“This mask — made of ancient Chilkat weaving but adapted to new purposes to ward off this new virus — is a symbol of our cultural strength,” Worl said at the ceremony. “During the 1918 flu pandemic, our ancestors who were stricken by an unknown disease crawled away from our village along the Chilkoot River so they would not infect their families.”
“We too are taking care of our families by isolating and wearing masks,” she added.
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world, and it is unique to Northwest Coast cultures.
Hope spent about 60 hours weaving the mask, according to SHI. That doesn’t include the hand-dying of the bright yellow material and the spinning of the warp, which also take a considerable amount of time.
“As I began the mask, I realized how perfect it was to use the Chilkat techniques to record history, as we have been recording clan stories, migrations and histories for hundreds of years through weaving,” Hope said in the release.
Hope said she donated the mask to SHI in gratitude for the institute’s support of her art and continued artistic growth.
She especially wanted to honor Worl and to have her accept the mask on behalf of SHI, as Worl’s grandmother, the famous Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut, taught Hope’s mother, Clarissa Rizal, Chilkat weaving techniques, and Rizal taught Hope to weave.
“It is as though our families are still being woven together,” Hope said.
The mask was gifted to SHI at a ceremony marking the first dance of a Chilikat robe made by Hope for a client. Elizabeth Hope, the eldest daughter of Lily and Ishmael Hope, held up the mask during the ceremony while wearing the Chilkat robe.