In the early 70’s I learned the songs from the Mt. St.Elias Dancers in Yakutat, Alaska via Harry K. Bremner, Sr. who came to my hometown, Juneau, Alaska to teach anyone who wanted to learn the songs and dances. (We must remember that at that time period, there were no such thing as dance groups like there are numbers today, and we never taught our songs to others outside of our clans.) As a teenager, I sang with many of the Mt. St. Elias elders (as there were very few, if any, teenagers or younger involved). At the time, I didn’t know they were singing two and sometimes three-part harmonies. By the early 80’s all those elderly singers were all passed on. Since then, I have always felt all the songs of the Tlingit need to include harmonies. In this way, we can truly hear and feel the meaning of the songs. The many drums in the dance groups of today is okay for those songs that just have vocables, however, the songs that have actual verses with meaning and history, need to be listened to, and what better way than the beauty of harmony. In this way, the beauty leads the way to retention of the story with the tune.
For nearly 15 years, my sister Irene Jean Lampe has taken it upon herself to learn the Tlingit songs of our T’akDeinTaan Clan songs. Like Chilkat weaving has helped carry me through my rough patches in life, I believe her learning the songs is what carried her through some very tough times in her life.
Here’s an example of a song composed by one of our clan relatives John K. Smith. One early evening in a moment of spontaneous combustion, Irene sang the melody and I sang the harmony in the lobby of the Walter Soboleff Building in the presence of our cousin, Miranda Belarde-Lewis.
Poet/writer Al Pizzarelli and his wife Tlingit artist/writer Donna Beaver Pizzarelli and their Mini-Coup
Eight years ago Al Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver met at a Haiku Poetry convention out there on the East Coast (but pardon me, I forget where!?). It was love-at-first-sight for Al; Donna didn’t know what to do with his notoriety, talent, charm and wit except to collaborate with him on a project that totally inspired both of them; years later, they are still at it!
Poet/writer Al Pizzarelli
Alan Pizzarelli is a poet, musician, and artist born in 1950 to an Italian-American family in Newark, New Jersey. He is the author of 13 collections of poetry. During the early 1970s, he began a serious study of haiku and related forms in New York City under the tutelage of Professor Harold G. Henderson, author of An Introduction to Haiku and Haiku in English. Since then, many of Pizzarelli’s poems have achieved worldwide acclaim and have appeared in a variety of textbooks, journals, and anthologies.
Alan Pizzarelli’s latest anthology hot off the press: “Frozen Socks”
I recently read Al’s “Frozen Socks.” Each brief piece of writing took me around the block and back again. It’s the first book of poetry I read from front to back and then again! I had three nights to hang out and work at Donna and Al’s home in New Jersey. I divided the book into three sections. When I tucked myself into bed each of those three nights, I read one section. The writings brought me to tears, made me laugh too loud and stopped me in my tracks. I tell you he is one heck of a Raven Trickster who reminds the reader of our vulnerable human condition!
This book is hot off the press available for purchase on Amazon for only $12.95 with additional shipping. Order your copy today by CLICKING HERE
For his review and input, Donna shows Al the covers of her hand-printed books
A member of the Tlingit Kaagwaantaan (Wolf) Clan, Donna Beaver Pizzarelli was born in 1961 in Juneau, Alaska. She hails from a long line of artists, most notably her late mother, beadworker/doll-maker Anna Beaver and her late grandfather, carver Amos Wallace. A media artist who specializes in web-design, research and podcasts, she is a visual artist extraordinaire, a writer and is about to embark on the path of her grandfather Amos: metal/stone jewelry.
In 2009, hosts Donna Beaver and Alan Pizzarelli produced the first Haiku Chronicles podcast. Today, more than 30 episodes later, what started off as a grass-roots effort with just a few hundred listeners has now grown to over two million plays of their episodes around the globe! You may visit their Haiku Chronicles website by CLICKING HERE.
Donna put Clarissa to work in giving a coat of gloss medium to the front and back of Donna’s book of poetry entitled “Rainforest Poems”
Donna and Al have a couple of weeks to complete their website updates, print and assemble Donna’s book of poems, receive their shipment of Al’s books, and pack their recorders, laptops, cameras, etc. into their little Mini-Cooper to drive up to Schenectady, New York State to attend the international Haiku Convention. Non-stop they work together in their writings, productions, art and music. Hanging out with them has reminded me of how a pair of people totally in love and committed to one another and their art forms can change a small aspect of the human race.
You may read more about Alan Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver Pizzarelli when their individual websites are back up and running.
Whenever I can, wherever I sleep, I place the foot of the bed at the window, so i awaken to nature and the first crack of dawn — view of Teslin Lake — July 2014
After nearly 40 years of writing my artist statements, and of all the responsibilities I have done in running an artist business, the writing of statements is the most challenging; I’d rather do my IRS taxes or shrinkwrap my prints, or go to the dentist than write an artist statement! I was even challenged a couple of months ago when at the request of one of my students’ assignments from her art instructor had to choose someone who had influenced her to become an artist, I wrote a brief bio explaining when I began to do my art and why. Even THAT was a challenge, although when I had completed the bio, I was somewhat pleased. (Here’s the link to the bio: http://www.clarissarizal.com/blogblog/birthday-bio/ ).
Even now after writing this artist statement, I asked myself why do I have a difficult time with bios and artist statements? Answer: I don’t like WRITING about myself. (Hey now, for those of you who know me and how much I can TALK about myself, that is very different than WRITING about my self!) When I talk about myself, it is easier because I am talking about the present or the past, I can express myself with animation, and I generally have human responses and conversation. When WRITING about self, it’s all about ME. It’s all about what looks good on paper; how I can (or cannot) articulate my process, articulate my inner sanctions, articulate my inspiration, passions, ideas, and remedies to turmoil and celebrations of achievements. It’s all about making the time to articulate. It’s all about how well I can articulate! And what the heck, I have lots of things I want to DO than spend my time ARTICULATING on paper!!! Articulating through conversations, classes, lectures and presentations is no problem; I do it all improvisationally anyway and it’s always accompanied by storytelling and animated movements, and I ENJOY MYSELF. However, writing about myself has yet to become enjoyable. I repeat, I’d rather do my taxes or even go to the dentist.
Anyway, here’s my latest artist statement. Let me tell you, it was a challenge to write this.
“When awakened by the first light of dawn, my mind filters itself slowly back to this reality while catching up to a body already shaking its legs with enthusiasm to start another day of creating, though dares not because spirit is still in that “delicate time in the in-between” where visions reveal themselves more clearly as I lay quietly, these things “await in the eaves” yet to be created. Those close to me come to understand it is best to leave me alone for up to a half-hour first thing in the morning; disturbing this fragile state of spirit will disrupt the visions of new weavings, new button robes, and new paintings yet to come. It is also a time of communing with those that have long passed, those that I know presently, and those that I will come to know. The things that return with me upon awakening have been manifesting themselves in this reality since birth. Yes, I keep a pen and small notepad on my bedside table.
Rainbow Glacier at the mouth of the Chilkat River – Haines, Alaska – July 2014
Creating every day on 6 hours of sleep per night is normal; I’ve been this way all my life. I create from the time I wake up to the time I collapse in bed 18 hours later. My normal is defined as having many things going on at once: there are three weavings on three different looms, a draft for a new Chilkat robe design, a buttonrobe on the sewing table, paintings half complete, and preps for new collages; but wait I still have to respond to an RFP, fish our Alaskan waters and pick the best wild berries in the world to put up for winter, instigate Chilkat gatherings and retreats, conjure up proposals for collaborations with other artists, terrace the driveway, build, draw or sew with my grand-children, draft another artist statement, prepare for storytelling or lectures, rehearse with the band, plant a tree nursery, sew Easter clothing for all the grand-children, etc. These activities “feed” one another, in turn they feed my spirit and I soar. When I soar, it’s contagious; everyone around me soars.
Totemic images in cement, at Svenson’s home in Wrightwood, CA – December 2014
Being a Creator is nothing new; look around at how the Great Creator is in constant state of flux, expansion and chaos. Artists are no different; we are a “chip off the old block.”
Within is a drive where there is no choice but create. If I did not create, little by little I would literally die – ask me how I know. First my spirit would dwindle, then my emotions depressed, subside, and eventually stagnate. Lastly, my body would shrink, the fire light in my eyes would extinguish, and my breath, expire. While in the midst of this decline, we could call this the “walking dead.” Though, as if the drive within would allow this atrocity to happen? No way. I am vision. I am one of millions of visionary vessels from which creation flows, and to add to my blessings, I am born to a landscape, people and culture rich with beauty, diversity, strength and community – gratefully we Tlingit are grounded within the guidance of our ancestral customs, traditions and relations.
Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving class, under the “sun” in the Elder’s Room of the Kwaanlin Dun Cultural Center, Whitehorse, Yukon – June 2014
Chilkat weaving offers a meditative, spiritual practice similar to repetitive movements in Tai Chi. Woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark, Chilkat weaving allows me to bring order in creative chaos as if the supple, compact twine of the yarns gliding through my fingertips were the pattern of a spider’s web, weaving new paths within the web of the brain, ever expanding to new horizons, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being, which in turn brings internal strength to the weaver; this naturally and gradually affects every relationship she has with others and self in good ways. Ask me how I know. This process and outcome is one of the main reasons why I teach our traditional Chilkat weaving to our women. For nearly 30 years, periodically, I have left my family and the comforts of home to gather, teach and support our generations of weavers. I remind and inspire our women to use their feminine intuition to converge with the realms beyond our seeing eye; in goodness, we help bring the past into the present, and present into future. When our women are healthy and strong, our world within and without, moves towards peace and happiness.
A circle of clan leaders, carved and painted totems just outside the Cape Fox Hotel in Ketchikan, AK – November 201
It is as though the warp yarns that hang down on our looms is our “veil between the worlds.” We understand the weaving of a Chilkat face puts us in touch with our ancestors. In a conversation with my friend and Chilkat weaver, Suzi Williams: “…when we weave the eyebrows, expressions are shared; when we weave the eyes, suddenly, we can see into their world and they can see into our world; when we weave the nose, lives breathe into our own keeping us alive and vice versa; and when we weave the mouth, we are able to finally communicate fully.” While we are weaving a Chilkat robe, many of us have expressed the uncanny feeling there is a presence standing invisibly behind us, ever supporting us. It is not until a weaver weaves the ultimate, a Chilkat robe, that she understands and feels the spiritual connection and some of our weavers may begin to understand a large aspect of her life’s purpose.
The many braids in weaving the “Resilience” Chilkat robe by Clarissa Rizal – April 2014
A Chilkat robe is a year in the making. Most of us no longer have the patience to devote this length of time to anything. We live in an instant-gratification world; we are no longer conditioned to sit quietly for 2000 hours as we contemplate our lives, let alone our livelihood. Before Chilkat came to me, I had very little patience. I would not create anything unless I knew I could do it in a day. After learning Chilkat, I gained the art of patience, the way of gratitude, and the act of compassion. The universe opened its doors with a flood of information; the kind of information not definable, yet powerfully written in our Native art, in the ways of our people, and in our commune with nature. When a Chilkat robe is completed, a totem pole raised, or a canoe on its virgin sail, new and old songs are sung with a celebration of dancers and a feast to commemorate the story “written” in our art. Our way is an holistic approach to creating art while documenting our history.”— Clarissa Rizal, March 2015
Clarissa and her children, Ursala, Lily and Kahlil – July 2011
A couple of weeks ago, one of my apprentices asked me if I would write a bio of myself that explained when I began to do my art and why. She said she had to choose someone who had influenced her life to become an artist; she choose me. This was an assignment she needed to present at her art class. My initial response was “Gee, I inspired her to become an artist? But I don’t want to write about me, it is so boring to go back that far and talk about who, what where when and why…” However, I gave her my word that I would do this for her that night. So, I “set the stage” with low lighting and a cup of tea; I do this whenever I have to write about my personal life to help me focus with very little struggle – then with very little editing, the words just flowed from my head down through to the keyboard onto the computer screen. Here’s what came…
19 January 2015
Sitting in the direct heat of the fake firelight of the electric Amish heater in my studio, always bundled in my sheepskin coat, sheepskin boots and hat because the heating device is not large enough to heat this one room where I work and sleep, I am never quite warm in Winter, though it’s better than being outside right now with 0 degree starlit snow. I reflect upon my life as an artist and wonder where it all started and if living the life of a full-time artist, especially now in a place without running water, without sewer, and without sufficient heat, was and continues to be, worth it.
No matter what age, for the past 59 years, I’ve always been a child of creativity, with a drive that is endless. I exist on 6 hours sleep a night; from the time my eyes are awakened by the early dawn until I suddenly stagger to my bed 18 hours later; like I am going-going-going, then gone! It’s only in the past couple of years that I realized that not everyone is like this; where have I been?
38 years ago today, my first child Kahlil was born, named after Kahlil Gibran who wrote many inspiring books including The Prophet, Spirits Rebellious, and my favorite The Broken Wings. Spiritually-inclined at a very young age, anything written about Christ had to be read; any paintings, prints and photos of Jesus had to be studied, so natural it was to read all of Gibran’s works when I was a young adult. And even though in the western way of living having a child at 20 was considered young, it was natural for me to think it normal because our Tlingit culture had the wisdom to know children are a gift of God.
My parents guided me into the way they were conditioned to get a “real job” to secure a pension plan to retire in 40 years. This worked for a little while. From the age of 14 to 20 I had real jobs working as a librarian assistant, a home-health aid for the elderly, a clerk typist for the Governor and for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Contracting, until of course Kahlil was born. Being a new mother was challenging; I was not a natural-born mother because I was such a tom-boy and it was next to impossible to stay indoors day in and day out while the baby napped, I had to keep up with the diaper changes and laundry, and he had to be nursed every 2 hours 24-7! Holy cow!
To keep my sanity I turned to gardening; it got me outdoors yet close to home! I turned to drawing, crocheting and sewing. While he took his naps, and directly after putting the entire household to bed each night, I’d stay awake ‘till at least midnight, creating; it was my therapy! During the raising of my three children, I made a living over the next decades in a variety of ways: besides designing and making Tlingit ceremonial regalia in button blanket, Chilkat and Ravenstail weavings, I was an entrepreneur before I knew what that meant. I made hats, I sewed custom-made clothing, created costumes for local theatre companies, owned a landscape gardening company, and was co-owner of an online newspaper. In the 70s and early 80s, I took up learning our traditional arts from some of the best artists of their time: carving, regalia-making, traditional song and dance, metal-smithing, basketry, Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving. Just before my children were grown up and gone I had created a name for myself as one of the few, if not the only, Tlingit women who has been a full-time artist working in all of the above mediums for nearly 40 years, all in the name of keeping my sanity and being a stay-at-home-self-employed-mother because I did what my mother recommended I do: stay home with my children.
In a few years I will be 65; do I see myself retiring soon? No way. I have no pension plan; I have no savings; and I surely do not have an inheritance. I cannot afford to retire. And what would I retire to!? Would I retire to taking vacations? What for?…vacations are boring; I don’t want to relax – relaxing is a lot of work! Would I retire to volunteering at something? I been there done that volunteering all my life with the house concerts I used to produce in my own home; with the children’s theatre I used to co-produce; with the art shows and classes I used to teach, just to name a few. Would I retire to what most people retire to? Watching TV from the couch. What for? Is that really fun, is it productive, is it creative, does it do anyone any good? The only results I see from watching TV is weight gain—too much potato chips!
Would I retire to what some of us retire to? Art and music.
Hello? I am already there; I have been creating art and playing music all my adult life. Does this mean I’ve been retired all my life? Hmmm…an interesting perspective.
It looks like I will continue doing what I have been doing for almost 40 years. Why change now? I’m in the groove.
My children now have families of their own. Each of my children and their spouses are self-employed artists. I have watched them struggle with making ends meet like the way their father and I made ends meet never knowing where our next paycheck would come from and if next month’s bills would get paid. I watch them live like I have, not afford brand new cars, not take any vacations, not have the latest styles of clothing, all the while living with tension about the ability to keep a roof over their heads, mouths fed, and clothing clean. However, there’s a sense of pride and awe that I feel when I see the fact that they stay at home with their children, making wholesome meals from scratch, tending to a flourishing garden, doing their “art” and their little kids “working” right alongside them: happy. These are values I did not realize were taught to them by my own example, someone who has passionate creativity, a drive that has always been driven, at the edge.
Kahlil is a professional film-maker/director who also teaches film a couple of days a week at the Institute of American Indian Arts; his wife Miki is a counselor at the Santa Fe Arts Academy; their 7-year-old Violet enjoys chess tournaments, sewing, ice-skating, gymnastics and basketball. Lily is an award-winning, professional storyteller/actress and also a Ravenstail/Chilkat weaver and teacher; her husband Ishmael is also a professional storyteller/actor, excellent writer who recently published his first book of poetry. They have four children who are being home-schooled. Ursala is an oil painter, block-print maker, graphic artist/web designer, and is president of a local Charter school she is starting; her husband Chris is a lead singer/songwriter in his band, a sculptor and a house painter. Their two daughters are obviously following their footsteps! My children and grandchildren live fully.
To my best of my ability, I live a life of integrity. I keep watch of what I do to see what I believe. My offspring and my work is love made visible. I follow my heart because my heart follows the source of creativity that inspires me and continues to drive me. I am old enough to look back upon my life and enjoy it a second time around. All my relations, my parents, my children and their children are proof of the legacy that I co-created and will leave. And when I leave, my conscious will be clear and free, knowing all that I loved and lived, was worth it.
The back and front cover of Juneauite author Hannah Lindoff’s “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” co-illustrated by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal
Hot off the press, you may purchase this book at the Alaska-Juneau Public Market at Centennial Hall in Juneau during Thanksgiving weekend at my booth #P-15 in the main hall OR you can purchase directly from Hannah OR you can order a copy from a couple of sources below:
Of all the things I have ever aspired to be and do, it’s never been to be a lead singer, or one of the singers in a band! Though at the request of my friend the glassblower, Preston Singletary, I thought I’d give it a go. We sing traditional Tlingit songs with the back up of a fantastic sound called funk jazz fusion played by outstanding musicians that practically blew flutist Gene Tagaban and I right off the stage with the very first drumbeats at our very first performance in Seattle the night of June 20th. We are called “Khu.eex” (pronounced “koo eeeexch” which in the Tlingit language means “potlatch.”
Preston’s other band is called “Little Big Band” – this band is a totally separate band with a totally different sound from Khu.eex, You may visit Little Big Band’s website by clicking here at “A Little Big Band.com”
The following are a few photos of “Khu.eex” taken by Dan Shanks and I:
Let’s introduce you to “Khu.eex” – L to R: drummer from New Orleans Stanton Moore, Clarissa Rizal, keyboard player from New Jersey Bernie Worrell, Seattle musicians: bass player Preston Singletary, flutist/spoken word Gene Tagaban, saxaphonist Skerik, lead guitar Captain Raab, and sound engineer Randall Dunn at Avast! Studios, Seattle.
Read more about the various band members & the recording studio on their websites:
Preston rounded up Gene, Captain Raab and Clarissa to create the set list.
I thought to myself “man, this is serious, we are really performing for an audience and are no longer in the recording studio…” like “hello, wake up dearie, we are not in Kansas anymore…!” The following photos are rehearsal shots:
Preston, Stanton Skerik and Bernie during our one rehearsal directly before the first of two shows on the evening of Thursday, June 19th, Seattle,Washington.
Here are a few more shots of our performances:
When are we going to take this troupe on tour? Well, a few things have to line up: First, Preston is working on finalizing the recording sessions and it looks as though there is enough material for two CD’s. Secondly, Preston’s two kids have to get a little older by about two years so that they can come on tour with us. Thirdly, we have to do some fundraising (maybe via Kickstarter) to pay for the tour.
And fourthly, for me, now that my throat is pretty much healed from last Winter’s spell of pneumonia, I can continue to take my voice lessons from Brett Manning’s Singing Success.com – click here to find out more about how you can take these fun voice lessons — if I can take voice lessons, you can take voice lessons! Being a part of Preston’s band, I feel like I have to contribute more than just being able to sing the native tunes; I have to really learn how to sing so my voice is an actual instrument allowing me to be more CREATIVE!!!
Bernie Worrell with Dan Shanks (who was the photographer for most of the photos on this blog post).
Both Bernie and Dan (as well as Gene Tagaban) are part Cherokee — can you see the resemblance? I can….(elongated shape of skull/face, certain width at bridge of nose, ears are flat to side of head, and the human kind graciousness of their character…)
An illustration by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal in Hannah Lindoff’s children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast”
Juneau author Hannah Lindoff first children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” will be hot off the press and available to the public this coming September. Illustrated by artists Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal, Hannah read the story during the weekend of “Celebration” at 11am on Friday, June 13th at the Juneau Public Library. Lily Hope also told one of our T’akDeinTaan clan stories of “Salmon Boy”. Sondra Simone Segundo read her book “Killer Whale Eyes” Photos follow:
With the help of her daughter, Hannah reads her first children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” to a full room at the Juneau Public Library, Juneau, Alaska.
I was brought to tears when Lily Hope told our T’akDeinTaan Clan story “Salmon Boy” – if you have the chance to ever hear her tell this story, drop everything, attend and listen…!
Ketchikan Tlingit writer, Sondra Simone Segundo reads her very first children’s book “Killer Whale Eyes”
Thank you to all the parents and children who came out this morning to attend this storytelling event! Thank you to the co-sponsors Juneau Public Libraries and the Sealaska Heritage Insititue. Gunalcheesh!