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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Anthropology

Arctic Studies Center

Basket
Delores Churchill holds a basket from her collection woven by Tsimshian master weaver Dora Bolton, 2017. Photo by Wayde Carroll.

Red cedar bark twined basketry is a distinctive Tsimshian art form made in Metlakatla, Alaska. With the passing on of elder master artists and the demands of contemporary lifestyles, it became at risk. A handful of weavers today are working to master and revitalize twined cedarbark basketry, reconnecting with a proud heritage. In 2016, the Arctic Studies Center collaborated with The Haayk Foundation of Metlakatla to document the materials and techniques of cedarbark basketry, increase public awareness of the art, and support cultural and linguistic learning in their community.

Led by Haida master weaver Delores Churchill, who learned from master Tsimshian weaver Flora Mather, work began with a red cedar bark harvesting and processing workshop in Metlakatla. Maidenhair fern and canary grass were also collected and prepared. During a second workshop, students learned to weave their own baskets using these materials. Between these two events, a residency was held at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage where artists studied baskets from museum and private collections, practiced and refined weaving techniques, and taught museum visitors and school children about basketry. Delores' daughter Holly Churchill, an accomplished weaver, assisted with weaving instruction in Anchorage and Metalkatla. Three advanced Tsimshian weavers participated in the project, sharing techniques learned in their families and communities and learning new ones: Kandi McGilton (co-founder of The Haayk Foundation), Karla Booth (granddaughter of Tsimshian master weaver Violet Booth) and Annette Topham (niece of master Tsimshian weaver Lillian Buchert). Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes.

Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes. You can download a PDF of their work here:

Participants in the red cedar  bark harvesting and processing workshop
Participants in the red cedar bark harvesting and processing workshop at Metlakatla, Alaska. Left to right: Jamie Thompson, Shayla Kitson, Anna Grace Kitson, Kimberlee Anderson, Delores Churchill, Annette Topham, Kandi McGilton, Aerial Horne and Naomi Leask (holding daughter Selina Savage). Photo by Wayde Carroll.

The videos presented here, with footage from the workshops and residency, provide instruction on how to harvest and process materials and on how to weave a basket from start to finish. To learn more about Alaska Native cultures, please visit the exhibition website Sharing Knowledge at https://alaska.si.edu, where you can also find educational materials in the Resources section.

Videos

Introduction

Weaving Terms

Teachings from Tsimshian Master Weaver Lillian Buchert

Harvesting Red Cedar Bark

Preparing Red Cedar Bark

Harvesting and Preparing Maidenhair Fern

Harvesting and Preparing Canary Grass

Weaving a Plaited Bottom

Weaving a Twined Bottom

Weaving the Bottom Edge

Weaving the Sides

Designs (Patterns)

Weaving Designs: Overlay

Weaving Designs: False Embroidery

Ending: Weaving the Rim

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