Adding the Devil's Club leaves to the black & white Chilkat robe design - acrylic painting on canvas measures approximately 24" h x 38" w - Clarissa Rizal; March 2012

I was commissioned by the NNAAPC (National Native American AIDS Prevention Center) in Denver, Colorado to create an image for this year’s convention.  Of course the theme is based on the awareness and attendance to health, healing and prevention.  They asked for a traditional image that would reflect their theme.  I couldn’t think of anything better than of course, Chilkat!

Added the traditional colors of yellow and blue along with the green leaves of the Devil's Club

If you’ve studied the older Chilkat robes of the past 200 years, you will notice there are robes that have similar designs, where there are slight changes between each robe, yet distinctly they are related –  like a variation on a particular theme.   I am doing this with my “Chilkat robe within a robe” series.  Although I have designed a couple of robes with this same theme for a couple of my students, my very first one that I designed and wove was called “Jennie Weaves An Apprentice” (which I finally finished weaving last August 20122), which is what this painting is based and of course I changed some of the design elements (i.e. smile faces as opposed to grims, etc.), yet the design description (described below) is very different than that of “Jennie…”

Almost completed - just need to add the Devil's Club berries, give the painting a more "painterly" effect, and a coat of matte medium

Native Americans used Devil’s Club both as food and medicine. The plant was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat adult-onset diabetes and a variety of tumors. Devil’s Club is employed as a blood tonic, used in salves for skin ailments, rheumetoid arthritis, cuts and bruises.  For spiritual protective purposes, the stalks were shaved of their thorns and placed above doorways, made into beads and worn on the person, and shaved stalk were placed in bowls and placed around the house.  Sometimes, Devil’s Club was dried and burned like an incense during certain spiritual ceremonies.  In vitro studies showed that extracts of Devil’s Club inhibit tuberculosis microbes.  Because Devil’s club is related to American Ginseng some think that the plant is an adaptogen. The plant has been harvested for this purpose and marketed widely as “Alaskan ginseng”, which may damage populations of Devil’s Club and its habitat, which is why many Alaska Native peoples are very protective of our Devil’s Club population; we do not want the plant to disappear because of capitalist exploitation.  We consider this plant very precious.

The plant is covered with brittle yellow spines that break off easily if the plants are handled or disturbed, and the entire plant has been described as having a “primordial” appearance. Devil’s Club is very sensitive to human impact and does not reproduce quickly. The plants are slow growing and take many years to reach seed bearing maturity, and predominately exist in dense, moist, old growth conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest, which is why we will harvest only what is needed.  There are times we will harvest the entire stalk if the need calls for this, otherwise, we will take a small cutting at the lower backside (the part that does not face the beach or face of the forest).  We never harvest the entire plant.  To ensure the continuance of the Devil’s Club, we dig a small hole nearby the area we have harvested and we place an “offering” of tobacco, cedar or sage – we are “giving back” and paying our respects.   Many Native American people consider ourselves “stewards of the land and sea.”

Devil’s Club generally grows to 3.5 to 5 feet tall; however, instances exist of it reaching in excess of 16 feet in rainforest gullies.  I have literally walked under “forests” of Devil’s Club.  The spines are found along the upper and lower surfaces of veins of its leaves as well as the stems. The leaves are spirally arranged on the stems, simple, palmately lobed with 5-13 lobes, 8 to 16 inches across. The flowers are produced in dense umbels 4 to 8 inches in diameter, each flower small, with five greenish-white petals. The highly poisonous fruit is a small red drupe 0.16 to 0.28 inches in diameter elongate in clusters.

Devil’s club reproduces by forming colonal colonies through a layering process. What can appear to be several different plants may actually have all been one plant originally, with the clones detaching themselves after becoming established by laying down roots.

This species usually grows in moist, dense forest habitats, and is most abundant in old growth conifer forests. It is found from Southcentral Alaska down throughout Southeastern Alaska to western Oregon and eastward to western Alberta and Montana.  Disjunct native populations also occur over 900 miles away in Lake Superior on Isle Royale and Passage Island, Michigan and Porphyry Island and Slate Island, Ontario.  I personally have seen Devil’s Club here and there in the higher elevations in marshy areas of the San Juan Mountains surrounding Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  The plants are not as large as those in Alaska, but then again, Alaska grows things big.

The completed "Chilkat Devil's Club" painting on canvas for NNAAPC by Clarissa Rizal - March 2012

Design Description of the painting entitled “Chilkat Devil’s Club”

The stylized Chilkat ceremonial robe design depicts a smaller Chilkat robe within a larger Chilkat robe which is part of a series of Chilkat robes portraying “a robe within a robe” image.  This particular theme is one that tells the story of the transference of indigenous knowledge healing methods from one person to another, or from one tribe to another, from one community to another, of from one culture to another; this is shown by way of the main human face (the Creator) who has gifted us the Devil’s Club and is flanked by the human faces on the top and left corner of the main robe who are holding the smaller robe (center lower half outlined in the yellow/black border) showing the recipient (smaller human face) of the healing knowledge and simultaneously the recipient of the healing modality.  In this case, although the Devil’s Club signifies the ancient healing methodology of the indigenous peoples mainly of the Northwest Coast across the Northern part of the U.S. and southern Canada to Ontario, because of small cottage industries in Alaska and Canada who are creating healing salves, teas and tinctures, the healing properties of Devil’s Club is available to anyone in the world.