Hope for our children and strength through community

    Lily Hope shares her love of community with the audience Saturday. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Lily Hope, an award-winning Ravenstail and Chilkat weaver, gave an artist talk Saturday at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum about why community matters to her.

    Lily Hope, who is Tlingit of the Raven moiety, was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska.

    Her Tlingit name is Wooshkindeinda.aat. which loosely translates to walking along a path together one behind another.

    She is a full-time artist and the sole provider of five children. Following her matrilineal line, she’s of her grandmother’s clan, the T’akdeintaan.

    Hope is also the president and co-founder of www.spirituprising.com.

    She learned Ravenstail weaving from her late mother Clarissa Rizal, and Kay Parker, both of Juneau. She also apprenticed for over a decade in Chilkat weaving with Rizal Who, until her untimely passing in December 2016.

    Her mother was one of the last living apprentices of the late Master Chilkat Weaver, Jennie Thlanaut.

    Her mother first began teaching her to weave when Hope was 15 years old, and she didn't love it at first. But now she knows what her life's work is.

    Much of her work can be found in museums outside of Alaska as well.

    On Saturday, Hope gave an artist talk on finding strength through community, which she said is her favorite part about being a weaver.

    "Community is the center of my work. People have asked me multiple times, what is it about Chilkat weaving or Ravenstail weaving that you love the most? Is it taking the plant and the animal and spinning together, the pop of color, seeing the curves come alive? And I do, I do like that stuff," she said. "But it's the human connection and the community and the weaving of relationships and story and beingness of being together that keeps me coming back. That community is what keeps me here which is also why I couldn't ever imagine living somewhere other than Juneau."

    She teaches both finger-twined styles (virtually since COVID-19), in the Yukon Territory, down the coast of Southeast Alaska, and into Washington and Oregon. She demonstrates internationally and offers lectures on the spiritual commitment of being a weaver.

    She spoke on her #AKMaskUp poster collaboration, bringing the importance of mask-wearing into the forefront of Alaskans’ minds while highlighting over 20 indigenous artists, models, and Alaska Native languages. Hope shared the connections in the community she found over the pandemic.

    "I wove a Chilkat protector mask. When I wove the first one, my 11-year-old son was like, oh, mom, you should weave 40 of those. And I was like, you're crazy. These things take 70 hours a week. But he said you're documenting history mom. That got me in the like fearless mode to message multiple museums like, hey, do you want to help document history during the Coronavirus pandemic, and turns out that I didn't weave 40 masks, I wove 37 over two and a half years of the pandemic," she said. "But I'm in many, many, many different museum collections now, which was that was like, dream life of an artist."

    Not only was it weaving Chilkat protector masks, but another opportunity to teach and hold community.

    "I opened the teachings online because I used to teach a dozen classes a year. I opened up online and had almost 60 students weave these masks with me through various support systems. Again, we found ourselves in this fully isolated pandemic. But every Sunday afternoon, I would zoom in with my students. And there again was my happy place in this interconnected community; that was not just my solo zipcode but reaching Maryland, reaching to Nebraska, Colorado, up into the Yukon Territory. That community brought us all strength through the pandemic. Many of my students were like, this is what sustains me and lets me do all of this hard, isolated, quiet, lonely work through the pandemic because on Sundays we get to come together and laugh and share meatloaf recipes and lament our dogs dying during the pandemic."

    While teaching these masks, CBJ had an artworks grant, and Hope proposed a series of Chilkat protector masks in transgender pride flag colors and LGBTQ pride colors called "All our Ancestors".

    Also throughout the pandemic, Hope applied for the Native Arts and Culture Foundation grant with the intent to explore mountain goat harvesting, the resource of yellow cedar, and how yellow cedar trees are freezing to death because of climate change.  It was granted to her, a two-year collaboration with Goldbelt Heritage Foundation.

    They quickly discovered that Tlingit, Haida, and Tsmishian weavers were not killing mountain goats to make their ceremonial regalia. It would have been more efficient for them to collect the two to four pounds of fur goats would shed every spring by brushing up against the bushes.

    Cedar trees around Southeast are no longer having strong undergrowth of foliage that's insulating their roots through the winter. Hope said back in 2010 that the weavers of the Northwest coast and Ainu, Indigenous people from Japan, came together for a show called Parallel Worlds. Through this show, they discovered the Ainu also utilize the inner bark of trees from northern Japan.

    Hope said this showed her even if all of the yellow cedar trees die, they will be okay in adapting to reaching out to the world's community.

    She compared the Tlingit community's way of life years ago to today's modern ways of obtaining resources. Most of the robes in the exhibit are made of merino wool and yellow cedar.

    "There were probably easily 20 other people who were participating in the foundational prep work of weaving ceremonial regalia. We relied on our entire community to help bring our stories bring our history to life. If it takes us 2,000 hours to make a single full-size ceremonial Chilkat dancing blanket. How could we spend another 601,000 hours hunting, processing, cleaning, spinning the works for these woven documents? We couldn't do it alone," she stated. "We still can't do it alone. Now we have the joy of being able to get online and click a button. Hey, Australia, and New Zealand, send us some of that merino wool. We still have this community that we're reaching into to bring strength to our communities."    

    Hope talked about her mother being one of the last known apprentices of Master Chilkat Weaver, Jennie Thlanaut.

    "In 1985, my mother's teacher, Jennie Thlanaut, noted she was the last Master Chilkat Weaver, out of Klukwan, Alaska. She taught this class in 1985 to I think it was 17 or 18 women outside of her family lineage. Up until this point, Chilkat weaving was very much like passed from mother to daughter or auntie to niece, or it stayed in the family line. Because there were not many students learning from Jenny that were in her family lineage, she opened this up, they ended up at the Raven House in Haines, Klukwan, Alaska. These women stayed for two weeks and wove with Jenny."

    There are multiple speeches she gave during the workshop that has been recorded with Sealaska Heritage Archives.

    "She spoke on the hope she felt knowing the work would not die with her, and the sisterhood she felt with these women learning from her. The strength she felt in knowing that she could step away into the spirit realm and the world would continue without her," Hope remarked. "Coming back to strength in community."

    A year forward, in 1986, Hope's mother spent six weeks working on a pair of dance leggings with Thlanaut, which have been on display in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum for a few years.

    Hope's mother was distinguished in that she was one of the last living apprentices of Thlanaut who wove a project with Thlanaut from start to finish.

    A month later after the apprenticeship, Thlanaut passed away.

    Hope said her family moved out of Juneau for a while before deciding to come back. Rizal then began teaching Thlanaut's grandchildren through a National Endowment for the Arts funding. After that, Rizal taught many other people to weave.

    Hope also gave an insight into harvesting the materials.

    "If you get the chance to pull cedar off the trees, do that. But on that note, don't ever pull more than your hang-loose distance, right? No wider than this on a yellow cedar tree. Make sure that it's a tree bigger than you can hug. If your fingers can touch around the trunk of the tree, it's not big enough for you to pull a length of the bark off. If there is a wound on a tree already, like you can see the graying of the inner bark of the tree, do not pull another strip off of that tree because it already hit its maximum."

    Above: Hope demonstrates tips for harvesting yellow cedar bark, saying not to pull more than your hang-loose distance. The photo behind her is of the last weaving class Master Chilkat Weaver Jennie Thlanaut taught (center holding robe, with Hope's mother, Clarissa Rizal, to the right.) 

    After the artist talk, Hope led a Chilkat tunic tussle zipper pull class using the leftover fragments from the ceremonial robes showcased.

    Below: Nyah and Juniper Harris create their zipper pulls. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: The ceremonial robes, most adorned with beaver fur. Each fringe's different coloration is unique to the artist's personal choice. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Most of the ceremonial children's robes followed the design of Hope's mother's piece, 'Ajuju's Robe', that Rizal created for her first grandson. The robe below was finished in 2014 and made with thigh-spun merino wool, yellow cedar bark warp, hand-dyed merino wool weft, yarns, and sea otter fur. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Hope said she had to teach all 50 of her students how to spin their own warp. Some students opted to pay other artists to do it for them, and some of them opted to weave their robes on hemp instead of Southeast resources.

    32 of them started blankets together in Oct. 2021. In the spring of 2022, they started to hang the warp, and after that began to finger twine the first rows across their robes.

    From Mar. of 2022 until Jan. 2023, the students weaved and weaved while also working full-time jobs and taking care of their families.

    "The fastest weaver spent 307 hours working on her piece, and the not so fast weavers, were spending 500 to 600 hours weaving their small size Chilkat robes," Hope said. "The Sunday we met on zoom kept us coming back."

    On Feb. 3, they opened the show at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Hope realized when they opened the show, that it was the largest gathering of the largest Chilkat weavings since even before 1985.

    News of the North asked Hope her experience so far in passing down weaving to her children.

    "Passing weaving down to my children is ever present. As I'm sure it was from my mother without her actually saying one of you is going to be a weaver. I joke that I just kept showing up for my mother, like when she'd say, come do this thing, come do that thing. I must have found some sort of enjoyment in it, other than just being in the company of my mother. Because, again, I'm driven by community, right? But I have yet to involve my children intensely in the work, my youngest is five and my eldest is 15, right now as of 2023," she said. "So my five and eight and nine-year-old girls, they wind balls with me. They love the dyeing process. They love the winding of balls. My mom didn't force us into weaving until we were in teenage years. My 15-year-old, Nicholas, he's made it really clear that he'll video document or social media."

    She said that instead, her oldest child wants to further the mission of Chilkat weaving to be as recognizable as other weavings through social media.

    However, Hope noted her middle child's middle name is Weaver...she'll leave that up for interpretation.

    Saturday was the last day (for now) that the robes were on display. The "For Our Children" exhibit will return this May and stay up through the fall.

    To keep in touch with Hope, follow her Instagram, reach out to her website, or weave with her on Patreon.

    More from News of the North


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