Della Cheney Presents Basketry and Ravenstail Weaving at UAS

Della Cheney explains the Ravenstail robe design she created and wove as a ceremonial gift for her daughter who graduated from law school - the design includes the ANS letters in the top border

Born and raised in Kake, Alaska, Della Cheney has been residing in Juneau for the past couple of years.   Last Thursday of last week, February 10th, she gave a presentation at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau on cedar bark, spruce root and Ravenstail weaving.  She is the first of 6 artist presentations sponsored by the UAS this Spring.  (Pardon me for being late with this entry; I would have posted this blog entry earlier, but for some reason my “WordPress” program had been acting up for a week until today.)

UAS students, staff, faculty and the general public attended the presentation

Two years ago in July 2009, I had the privilege of learning how to weave a cedar bark hat when Della was teaching a class at the Teslin Cultural Center (Yukon Territory, Canada) during part of their Celebration 2009 activities.  I happened to be there because I was teaching a Chilkat/Ravenstail class.  During the first day of the class, while everyone was first experiencing the texture of cedar bark (for some the very first time), Della spoke of the spiritual connection between humans and the world about them including the bark of trees.  She spoke of the spirituality and attitude of the Native people when we harvest our materials and supplies for creating the functional things that were common in our every days lives many years ago, and how these things went by the wayside when we were adjusting to the Western ways of doing things and trying to integrate the two separate values which often times clashed.  Della spoke of things that had nothing to do with the technique of cedar bark weaving, but had everything to do with the lifeways, spirituality and attitude which all goes into creation.  I listened intently.  In all the native art classes I had ever taken over the years, whether taught by Native or non-Native, I had not come across anyone who spoke in a language that I understood; I could relate.   This resonated with me.  And when I looked about the room at the fellow students, I could see they were truly listening and were reminded of our innate spirituality born within each of us.  So from then on, I knew that anytime Della would be doing a presentation of any kind, I would do my best to be in her audience as here at UAS.  I want to hear more about the art of spirituality in the spirituality of creation.

Della explains the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) design on the traditional "Koogeina" (sash) also reflected in the cedar bark hat (in her left hand) being woven by her student Eileen Wagner

The ANS Koogeina and hat amongst bundles of split spruce roots and maidenhair fern prepared for weaving baskets

After the presentation, Della Cheney and her student of basket weaving, Eileen Wagner, explain weaving patterns to audience members

Cedar bark roses, small and large are amongst the traditional cedar bark baskets and bundles of prepared split cedar

I am almost done with my hat that I started in her class..  I spent about three 10-hour days weaving the hat.  It has been on my wooden hat form for almost two years.  I haven’t touched it since the class.  However, Della hosts a weekly Sunday afternoon artists’ gathering for folks who want company while they are weaving cedar, spruce roots, Ravenstail or Chilkat; or they are bead working or sewing.  I am going to learn how to end the hat and I am excited.  Stay tuned; once I complete the hat, I will post it as an entry on this blog.

A couple of wooden hat forms show signs of being well-used. The hat form in the foreground was hand carved of one piece of red cedar by Della's brother and well-known artist, the late Norman L. Jackson, Sr. from Keex Kwaan ( Kake, Alaska). Eileen Wagner talks art with Ernestine Hayes, organizer of the UAS "Art of Place" artist presentations

The “Art of Place” presentations sponsored by the UAS, are held at the Juneau campus in the Glacier View room. (Where’s the Glacier View room?  It is in the building that has the library, however, the Glacier View room is kitty corner from the library; it is at the top floor right hand side.  When entering the building from the parking lot, the room is to the far right – once in the building,  ask for directions.)

All presentations are open to the public; they are all held on Thursdays and begin at 10am to noon followed with potluck desserts to provide audience members to schmooze with the artist!

Here’s the list of artists:
* Della Cheney (with Eileen Wagner) started the series off last week with her presentation on Ravenstail and basket weaving.
* I will be doing my presentation next week on Thursday, February 24th.
* Ed Kunz is scheduled to demonstrate silver carving on Thursday, March 17th.
* Doug Chilton woodcarving on Thursday, March 24th.
* Florence Sheakley beading and blankets on Thursday, April 7th
* Helen Watkins gathering and preserving foods on Thursday, April 21st

I will be demonstrating Chilkat weaving on my latest robe – which hopefully will be 2/3 completed by then.
I will also be giving a power point presentation on some of my robes and paintings.
Also including a bit of storytelling as well.

If you have time, come on out and support our local artists.

4 Comments

  1. Awesome stuff! Della is a great lady! One thing, I think it would be nice if our weavers started using the Tlingit phrases. For example, the Raven’s Tail would be Yeil Koowú, and the Chilkat robe would be naaxein. Gunalchéesh!

    • Good idea and I make the Hats so it would be Yeil Koowu —–

  2. Wonderful, Clarissa! Your participation and support are beyond value. Thank you so much for agreeing to share your exceptional talents. This article and these pictures are first-rate. Gunalcheesh!

  3. The hat form above, the one closest to the front of the picture was carved out of red cedar for me, by my brother Norman L. Jackson Sr. from Keex Kwaan. It is one of two that he made. It is one solid piece of red cedar. Haa waa Salana for my brother NL. Xax si xan. Dang dii Kuyadang. I love you. Della