The Curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum, Deana Dartt with her unique staff Mike Murawski,  Alex Mar, Todd Clark – They stand next to Clarissa’s recently completed Chilkat robe “Resilience” now part of the permanent collection of Portland Art Museum – December 2014

Surprises come in all sizes and shapes, some pleasant and unpleasant.  Learning how to keep the emotions in check is, I have discovered during my mid-life “learning curve”,  the best way to stay off the emotional roller coaster.  I used to respond fully at everything, whether positive or negative; I have come to realize that was a lot of energy to expend especially now as I am getting older, it is best for me to conserve that energy for myself, to myself, as I am needing to keep any energy I have if I want to continue doing what I do and all the things yet that I intend to do before I go.  So,…the surprise of seeing the Chilkat weavings collection at the Portland Art Museum was indeed pleasant that will last the rest of my lifetime.  Why?


The double-headed Raven “Two Door” Chilkat dance tunic and its wooden pattern board – the tunic was woven by my weaver teacher/mentor Jennie Thlunaut

Though there were a couple of other weavings and button blankets etc., I focused on these two tunics I show herein:  one is a “Grizzly Bear” tunic woven by Mrs. Benson, the paternal aunt and weaving teacher to my teacher/mentor Jennie Thlunaut, and the other tunic, the double-headed Raven “Two Door” tunic was woven by Jennie Thlunaut.  Mrs. Benson was born in the mid-1800s and died in the early 1900’s; Jennie was born in 1895 and died in 1986.  Jennie’s mother died when Jennie was 12; her mother had just started weaving another robe.  With the help of Jennie’s 4 paternal aunts, Jennie completed the Chilkat robe her mother started.  Mrs. Benson was one of those aunties.


Full view of the double-headed Raven “Two Door” Chilkat dance tunic by Jennie Thlunaut

The Portland Art Museum has in its collection a “weavers lineage” most likely, unlike any other museum anywhere else in the world.  How is that possible?  The “Grizzly Bear”  tunic was woven my Mrs. Benson, the “Two Door” tunic woven by Jennie Thlunaut, and now the “Resilience” Chilkat robe woven by me!  There is no other museum or cultural institution that owns a Chilkat weaving by me, so in this case,  P.A.M.  owns a weaving lineage of three generations! — Now how cool is THAT!?

Jennie wove two of the double raven “Two Door” tunics.  Long time ago, I was told the story of why she ended up weaving two identical tunics,  but now I don’t remember.  And like anything, if I don’t TELL the story enough times, either verbally or at least written down, the story gets lost, so let this be a lesson to us!  However, the Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia owns the other identical tunic and I KNOW they have the story!


Full view of the double headed Raven “Two Door” tunic pattern board

This hand-painted pattern board hosts two designs; on one side is the “Two Door” double raven, on the other side is the “Grizzly Bear”.  Of course, It be sensible that this large piece of wood, which is cut the width of the tree, be used efficiently!


Close up of a Chilkat tunic neckline and sleeve woven by Jennie Thlunaut’s auntie “Mrs. Benson”

This particular Chilkat weaving tunic woven by Mrs. Benson is my ALL TIME FAVORITE woven piece since I first laid eyes on Chilkat weavings nearly 40 years ago!  The design, the workmanship, and the colors which have yet to fade terribly are all fabulous – such an inspiration.  In fact, back in 2000 I did a limited edition of only 40  silkscreened prints using a photograph of this tunic as my inspiration to portray Jennie Thlunaut’s lineage of weavers titled “ShaaxSaaniKeek Weavers Circle.”


“Bear” wooden pattern board for the Chilkat tunic woven by “Mrs. Benson”

Traditionally, because men were the artists who carved and painted the form line art of the Northwest Coast, they were the ones who designed the Chilkat.  The form line of Chilkat is “translated” from the traditional form line so that the weaver can more easily weave the shapes.  So in order to create a successful Chilkat pattern, the designer must understand how the weaving process is done.  Very few artists know how the weaving process is done; in fact, there are many of our people who have never seen the weaving process, and when they do, they are shocked at the intricate amount of work and the numerous hours to create even a small weaving.  They then understand why the Chilkat weavings are “expensive.”


The “Bear” Chilkat tunic woven by Jennie Thlunaut’s auntie, Mrs. Benson – trimmed with sea otter fur on neckline, cuffs and the sides