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.
Chilkat/Ravenstail headdress, double-sided Ravenstail vest, and Chilkat/Ravenstail handbag woven by Clarissa Rizal – 1989
My very first Chilkat piece was a small ghost face pouch woven in a week in 1983. A lousy weaver, I dare say that when I threw the thing against the window it just about cracked it! Nope I never show that one to nobody! Other than the one side of a pair of leggings that I wove with Jennie during our apprenticeship, and the Chilkat woven flap to a leather backpack, the three pieces above and the wall pouch below are my very first weavings before I wove my first Chilkat robe (Sea Grizzly 1999) and my first Ravenstail robe (Copper Woman’s robe woven in 1994).
“Father Cyril Bulashevich & St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church” Chilkat wall pocket woven by Clarissa Rizal – 1990 – private collection, Denver, Colorado
Though I have woven several small pieces not pictured here (or anywhere else for that matter), and I am a multi-tasker who has created other major pieces of art in a variety of mediums, the photos in this blog are all of my major weavings. This blog post is to honor my children and grand-children to whom I leave my legacy and especially today to my youngest child whose birthday is today; she is the one who created this website, who created and encouraged me to blog, and who still continues to be a level-headed side-kick.
“Sea Grizzly” Chilkat robe woven by Clarissa Rizal – 1999 – private collection, Vancouver, B.C.
“The Diamonds Robe” woven by Clarissa Rizal – 1997 – private collection, Juneau, Alaska
“Hauberg Raven” Chilkat robe woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2001 – private collection – Seattle, WA
“Copper Woman” 5-piece Ravenstail and Chilkat ensemble woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2001 – Collection of Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska
“Copper Man” 6-piece Ravenstail and Chilkat ensemble woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2006 – private collection, Mercer Island, WA
“Copper Child” 4-piece Ravenstail ensemble woven by Lily Hope and Clarissa Rizal – 2009 – Collection of Sealaska Heritage Institute
“Jennie Weaves An Apprentice” Chilkat robe woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2011 – Private Collection, Los Angeles, CA
7-foot Ravenstail border for a button robe – 2013 – private collection, Vashon Island, WA
“Diving Whale Lovebirds” Chilkat robe woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2013 – private collection, New York, NY
Dancing of “Diving Whale Lovebirds” Chilkat robe by Clarissa Rizal – 2013
Pattern Board of “Resilience” Chilkat/Ravenstail robe designed by Clarissa Rizal – in the process of being woven; completion by June 2014 – commissioned by Portland Art Museum
The following is an exhibit of Northwest Coast Ravenstail weavers and the indigenous peoples of Japan, the Ainu, which opened at the Japanese Gardens in Portland Oregon in June 2009. Several of the Northwest Coast weavers included Ann Smith, John Beard, Lily Hope and myself. I didn’t know about this video until my daughter brought it to my attention today. Here’s the link:
Instructor Debra Carlick demonstrates her cedar bark tricks-of-the-trade to fellow cedar bark instructor Lily Hope as Dan Shorty and Jane Smarch pay close attention
Debra Carlick and Lily Hope taught a cedar bark weaving class held during Teslin’s “Celebration 2011” in Teslin, Yukon Territory, July 25-30, 2011. The class began with 4 students; by the end of the week, there were 15 students!
The weaving classes were held in the Boat House on the shores of Teslin Lake at the Teslin Cultural Center
A nice shot of the weavers' room with an antique wooden boat in the Boat House
A view from the center of the Boat House looking out towards Teslin Lake
Yeah for the gift of cedar and all those willing to keep up with the traditions!
Splitting the bark
Separate bags of soaked cedar helped identify students' prepared materials
While weaving cedar bark, we must keep our materials damp and supple for ease of workability
The youthful generation joined the class
Rhonda demonstrates while enthusiastic visitors and classmate Dan look on
Cedar bark instructor Debra Carlick with new student Teslin elder Jane Smarch
Many visitors and enthusiasts of cedar bark weaving!
Tlingit dancers from Juneau, Alaska visit the class too
The serene excitement of completing his hat!
Her completed cedar headband trimmed out with mother-of-pearl and abalone buttons
Charlene Baker's composition of the "Completion Song" sung each time a student completed their Ravenstail or cedar bark weaving
Dan Shorty sports his cedar bark headband (made in this class) with weaving instructors Lily Hope and Clarissa Rizal sporting their hand-sewn Ainu headbands
Chilkat and Ravenstail weaver Amber Baker is on her way to completing her cedar bark hat
Charlene concentrates on beginning the next row - her very first Ravenstail weaving!
While researching the old Chilkat robes in the museums around the Northern Hemisphere, artist/weaver/author Cheryl Samuel also came across the Ravenstail style of weaving. Her first Ravenstail weaving class was held at the Totem Center in Ketchikan, Alaska in November 1989; I attended that first class. Since then, whenever anyone asked me about learning Ravenstail weaving, I’d recommend Cheryl. However, 22 years later, I conducted my very first official Ravenstail weaving class in Teslin, Yukon Territory (Canada) during the week of their cultural “Celebration 2011” July 25 – 30, 2011.
During Teslin's "Celebration 2011" the class had many visitors checking out the weavers' tedious and wonderful work - We wove a small Ravenstail pouch in 3 days
Charlene demonstrates creating the corners to her classmates
Dan Shorty and Charlene Baker with their completed Ravenstail weavings - (I apologize for not having a shot of the entire class with their completed weavings!)
Ainu elder inspects Rose's recently-completed Ravenstail pouch with Wayne and Debra Carlick
During the class, a group of Ainu visitors from Japan were guest performers at Teslin’s Celebration. Although we there was a language barrier, we used lots of gestures and facial expressions to communicate the similarities of our spinning and weaving techniques.
The Ainu spin their warp exactly like ours with two strands of fiber with the exception that they spin in mid-air using their thumbs and we spin our warp on our thigh
Ainu performers from Japan with Cedar bark weaving instructors Debra Carlick (Atlin, B.C.) and Lily Hope (Juneau, AK) and Ravenstail instructor Clarissa Rizal
Four Generations: Irene Lampe, Clarissa Rizal, Elizabeth Hope, Lily Hudson
Our mother calls the shots on Sunday. We know not to make big plans for Sunday mornings because we know that Mom is gonna be calling up the day before and say “…let’s have breakfast at Donna’s…it’s my treat.” Sometimes our cousins, the Belarde girls and their families attend. Sometimes sisters Jean and Deanne; other times it’s just brothers Rick and Tim. This time it’s a combination that hasn’t ever happened before…
Irene calls for another Sunday morning breakfast at Donna's: Betty, Lily, Ishmael, Dee, Rick, Dan, Mom...and I (not pictured cuz I'm taking the photo)
I hadn’t ever noticed how much my mother enjoys her meals more when someone is eating with her – huh? – the simplest of things that go unawares for many years until a person’s life gets simplified! She doesn’t want much anymore. She just appreciates her every breath at hand. And because it was another rare, sunny day in Juneau, she wanted to put flowers on the graves, to visit the memories of her mother, brothers, niece, sister and husband, knowing that any day she will be joining them.
Beautiful grave roses
Three weeks before my father passed away in Decmeber 2008, my father requested that we put 5 red roses on his grave in memory of him along with his 4 best friends who were blown to smithereens in a tank during World War II in the Phillipines. Dad said he would have been in that tank had he been accepted into the Phillipine Army – but because he was an inch too short, he was not accepted into the army.
Our brother Richard Lampe with our mother Irene Lampe visiting graves at the Alaska Memorial Park on Riverside Drive
How many middle-aged men do you know who take care of their mother full-time? Our brother Rick has been taking care of Mom since our father’s passing almost two years ago.
Our grandparents' graves, Mary Wilson Sarabia and Juan Sarabia
Our Mother Irene says she'll be laying next to Dad someday...
Lily Hudson and Elizabeth “Betty” Hope wait for daddy to appear on stage
Ishmael Hope explains the shape of Alaska by using his hand - a perfect visual for demonstrating to the tourists where Juneau is located in relationship to the rest of Alaska! Yet, even we locals laughed at the hand demonstration because many of us had never seen that gesture before!
If you guys didn’t get a chance to see Cedar House’s last performance this past Saturday, August 28th, you missed out on the re-telling of four old Tlingit stories by Frank Katasse and writer of Cedar House, Ishmael Hope. Ishmael had re-written the stories to set for the stage recorded by the late Robert Zuboff. The play was directed by Flordelino Lagundino (www.flordelinolagundino.com).
The play was staged for this Summer’s tourist season, however, there was so many requests for the play to be performed for the locals, Perseverance booked a couple of weekends.
Four stories were enacted out on stage between Frank and Ishmael. The kept us quite entertained hearing the dialogue exchanged between the two as the stories were conveyed with motions, shouts, quick costume changes and facial expression – so much fun! The four stories included:
The Origin of the Mosquito – about how a young man overcame a terrible evil during the earliest years of Tlingit history.
The Birth of Raven – about how the major figure in Tlingit mythology came to birth, survived his treacherous uncle and arranged the Tlingit world today.
The Salmon Box – about how the Raven created the salmon cycle.
The Raven and the Brown Bear – about the Raven at his most scheming and devilish.
I had heard these stories several times before, and even acted out the mosquito turned cannibal giant story with the Native theatre group Naa Kahidi Theatre back in the early 90s, but to see two expert storytelling actors portray these stories in a different light was just so much fun!
A full house and standing-room-only at Perseverance Theatre's last performance of Cedar House
Storyteller Frank Katasse and Ishmael Hope refer to their list giving thanks to all those who assisted with this production
After the play was over, Frank and Ishmael stuck around to answer more questions from audience members
Miah Lager and Lily Hudson with their children pointing to the "stars"
HUH!? you are probably wondering why I didn’t include any photos of the actual storytelling!? Like, what happened!?
I couldn’t. The audience was not allowed to take photos during the show.
Sorry folks. I was just being a good girl and did what I was told; for once!
Killerwhale Chilkat apron in progress by Shgen George
The last day of this Summer’s Chilkat weaving classes ended a couple of days ago – I’ve heard many of the students have Chilkat weaving withdrawal! (This is a very good thing!) We had a beautiful feast this last day. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the food, right down to the pumpkin pie, was fabulous. That’s the best part about Chilkat weaving classes: the excellent food!
The best part about Chilkat weaving classes: the food and the weavers who made the food!
The weavers before the feast
Many thanks to Atricia Makaily for organizing both classes!
Charlene Baker drove down from Pelly Crossing, YukonTerritory to attend this class
Fausto Paulo stands one last time to share a funny insight with his fellow weavers
Debra O'Gara is still chuckling over Fausto's humor; she's also happy to finally learn Chilkat
Assistant student teacher, Lily Hudson reminds Crystal Rogers to "do her braids."
Davina Barrill "puts up" the ends of her braids in the back side
Debra O'Gara admiring Jessica Isturis' fine weaving
Fausto Paulo is turning the bottom corners of his weaving; he is almost finished!
Gail Dabaluz is beginning to shape her Chilkat circle within the box
Jackie Kookesh is shaping the Chilkat eye and eyelid
When Leandra Makaily concetrates on her Chilkat weaving, she concentrates real hard - when she isn't in a concentrating mood, she doesn't weave - it is a good thing to understand this about Chilkat weaving
Marsha Hotch is pleased with her Chilkat circle
Pam Credo-Hayes is weaving the borders for a pair of leggings
Gail Dabaluz is inspecting Pam's Chilkat border on how the "Jennie Thlunaut" corners are woven; like what is that little specific trick!?
With his tapestry needle, Ricky Tagaban is putting up all his Chilkat weft yarn ends in the backside of his completed Chilkat hat; as in the "olden days" it's a process he would like a slave to do - look how he is pretending to be happy about it!
Look closely at the backside of Ricky's Chilkat hat; those are all the ends that Ricky is putting up - imagine how what it is like doing a full-size Chilkat robe! - Now, do you really want to be a Chilkat weaver, or just have somebody else weave something for you!? - that is the question we are all wondering...can you take it!?
Chilkat kids - the children of Chilkat weavers
Clarissa Rizal demonstrates the Chilkat interlocking technique to Charlene Baker
Nobody's weaving...where's everybody? We're busy sharing the Chilkat feast!
When we are finished weaving for the day, no matter what size your loom and its project, we always cover our loom and tuck them in for the night
Some of the looms are covered with a pillow case which is simultaneously used as a carry bag
Some loom covers are clean and pretty dishtowels or bath towels
Some loom covers are cloth gifts from Japan via a Chilkat weaver Shgen Geore, who just recently returned to Juneau from a year of teaching in Japan
Golly! what is the big deal about showing the covered Chilkat looms, huh? How come? – Well, why not!?
The Chilkat "after-feast!"
SEARHC's exquisite board room with skylights and plush chairs, where I've spent the last 6 weeks teaching Chilkat weaving to 25 committed students - whew! what a way to spend the Summer! What a treat!
Most everyone did not complete their weaving – that’s normal for beginners. Many of the students are experiencing Chilkat weaving withdrawal symptoms. That’s real good and real normal. There’s talk of getting together once a week starting on Sunday, September 5th. There’s also talk about doing a Ravenstail weaving class this Fall too. We’ll see. We’ll keep everyone posted.
During the teaching of these two Chilkat classes, for the entire 6 weeks, my fingers have been itching to weave – when teaching others to weave, we go from loom to loom; there’s a rhythm like duck, duck, goose, goose game. We’re just teaching, we’re not weaving our own thing,…it’s hard to just teach and not have moments to weave our own thing during class. It’s hard to control ourselves to not just sit at the student’s loom and just weave their project altogether! Chilkat weavers must have lots of self-control! If we are not born with it, the self-control eventually develops over time because Chilkat weaving and teaching the weaving forms you into things you did not know could exist in you!
Are you sure you want to continue learning and weaving Chilkat?
Davina Barrill uses a battery-operated headlamp
The effectiveness of using a headlamp is awesome!
Debra O'Gara, Marsha Hotch and Atricia Makaily
Fausto Paulo is weaving the eyelid
Jackie Kookesh is excited about weaving her first Chilkat circle
Jessica Isturis swifty works her white braids
Amber Baker is happy to have the assistance of Leandra Makaily
Lily Hudson and Charlene Baker use the transparency pattern to show where Charlene needs to insert her braids
Lily demonstrates to Charlene the insertion of the braids working the ends up into the backside
Lorraine DeAsis begins the weaving of her circle; she has supported her daughter Patrice DeAsis in learning Chilkat weaving the past three years - now that Lorraine is learning, and like Charlene and Amber Baker, as well as Michelle and Micaela Martin, and Shgen with Gabrielle George, they have a mother-daughter support system!
Self-taught in Chilkat weaving, Marsha Hotch is learning Jennie Thlunaut's fingering technique for speed, accuracy and tension
Pam Credo-Hayes is weaving her first pair of Chilkat leggings
Pam shows Fausto Paulo the leggings pattern
Crystal Rogers demonstrates the fingering technique to Marsha Hotch; Fausto Paulo watches Jackie Kookesh weaving her circle
14 students learning Chilkat weaving gather in SEARHC's board room
This Chilkat weaving class began Monday, August 16th with 14 students. This is the largest class I’ve ever taught, only because I have an assistant, my own daughter, Lily Hudson. Teaching a class with my special assistant is sooo nice – I’m able to relax more each time I make my rounds with each student and I like that Lily’s knowledge of Chilkat weaving is increasing as well. She is a fine teacher.
This class is unique in that there are four mothers with their four daughters whose ages are 6, 9, 13 and 16. Before this class, I’ve only taught 2 children under the age of 16 (and I have discovered that teaching children is much easier than teaching adults!).
Gabrielle George gifts a cloth to fellow student Amber Baker
When Chilkat weaver, Shgen George and her daughter Gaby returned recently from their year in Japan, they brought beautiful cloths as a gift to each student in this Chilkat weaving class! These cloths are to cover our weavings.
Lily Hudson demonstrates measuring warp using a pre-cut cardboard warp board
My Chilkat weaving teacher, Jennie Thlunaut from Klukwan, had many tricks-of-the-trade including her convenient “warp board” – the device that measures consistent lengths of a weaver’s warp. Each student was given their warp board. Using pre-cut cardboard cut to the proper length of the weaving, they wrapped their warp, cut one end, and “dressed” their looms!
Student Debra O'Gara checks her tension on her cardboard warp board
Pam Credo-Hayes wraps her warp around the board following the direction of the arrow, a guide to keep us in the right direction!
Amber Baker is organizing her warp into bunches of five because her warp size is 10 e.p.i. (warp ends per inch)
Fellow Chilkat weaving student/teacher, Ricky Tagaban teaches eager Amber Baker how to weave Chilkat. Ricky was a student in the previous Chilkat weaving class held in July.
Lily and I invited Ricky Tagaban to come to class and be our assistant-to-the-assist teacher – he’s just plain fun to have around, let along a pretty dang good weaver for a beginner!
Trisha Makaily has moved a project from one weaving loom to another - here she is re-hanging the warp using the cotton cord anchoring strand
Lily guides Michaela Martin weaving her "anchoring row", the first strand on the weaving project that holds all the warp ends in place. Davina Barril, Jessica Isturis, Crystal Rogers and Jackie Kookesh pay close attention.
Lily demonstrates Jennie Thlunaut's unique fingering - notice how some of the weaver's hands are imitating the motion! Crystal Rogers, Charlene Baker, Michelle and Michaela Martin, Jessica Isturis, Debra O'Gara, Davina Barrill and Marsha Hotch laugh at how smooth Lily's fingers fly through the warp - like how can THEY ever achieve that motion, huh!? They'll soon discover!
Pay attention to 9-year-old Amber Baker, a member of the next generation of Chilkat weavers!
Students in this class are: Gabrielle and Shgen George, Michelle and Michaela Martin, Charlene and Amber Baker, Atricia and Leandra Makaily, Jessica Isturis, Crystal Rogers, Davina Barril, Debra O’Gara, Marsha Hotch, Lorraine DeAsis and Jackie Kookesh. The class is for two weeks ending on Sunday, August 29th.