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Alaska Native Artist - Accentuating Tlingit Traditions
Updated: 20 hours 29 min ago

Hooked on Antique Fishing Lures

Sat, 05/02/2015 - 4:00am

A collection of antique fishing lures were hooked into becoming the embellishment to the next button robe designed and created by Clarissa Rizal

I’ve been collecting antique fishing lures from garage sales, antique and 2nd hand stores since 1999.  While fishing with my father off shore at Outer Point back in the early 90’s,  I had this notion that I would create a button blanket to honor my two older brothers and my father who were all commercial fishermen and also to just honor fish in general, especially salmon!  Well 16 years later, my oldest brother and my father are now gone, and the other brother no longer fishes for a living because even that profession has nearly gone by the wayside too.

The salmon are disappearing; when our mother said that years ago, I didn’t want to believe her.  Yet, we who are older than 50 have seen it with our own eyes.  And the waters are so contaminated, that I will eat salmon maybe once a year because even though I crave our fish, I don’t trust what salmon are carrying.

I plan on creating a series of salmon button robes to mourn the loss of our salmon, however also to inspire faith our salmon will one day return in great numbers — maybe not in our lifetime, but possibly in our grand-children’s lifetime.  If you, dear reader, come across antique fishing lures like those above, bring them to my attention so I can fetch them OR better yet, send them my way to my Alaska address or Colorado address – either way they will get to me!  Thank you!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Location, Location, Location of a Tool Box

Wed, 04/29/2015 - 4:00am

Sally Ishikawa’s tool box is always handy…it’s prominent position rests on the corner of a kitchen counter!

Sally Ishikawa hosted a 5-day Chilkat weaving class at her home in Corvallis, Oregon back in December 2014.  She was one of 5 weavers who are working together to complete a Chilkat apron gifted to them by the infamous Ravenstail weaver John Beard, who was gifted the Chilkat apron by another person.  (See Blog post at:  http://clarissarizal.com/blog/the-apron-apprentices-oregon/ )   Sally’s home was like a miniature gallery of hand-made arts and crafts by other artists, friends and herself, along with an art book collection that was out of this world, not to mention the fantastic landscaped back yard.

Though of all the things that stood out in her home was the practical, antique, wooden tool box which had its permanent place located on the corner of her kitchen counter:  one side had the basic cooking tools, the other side the basic hand tools for minor repairs or adjustments around the house or garden.   She has eliminated the rummaging through a kitchen drawer or dragging out the tool box and rummaging some more; when you need a tool, it’s easily accessible – there’s no searching!  I just love it!  —  As soon as I find an antique tool box of sorts, you know what I’m doing!

The “kitchen” side of Sally Ishikawa’s tool box


Categories: Arts & Culture

THE Cutting Mat of All Time

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 4:00am

Rhino cutting mat fits  5’x6′ table in Clarissa’s studio

Many years I have cut out all my button robe applique’s on a small 30″ x 40″ cutting mat which was not quite large enough for many of the designs.  Then a fellow seamstress/clothing designer referred me to the Rhino Cutting Mat she had been using for many, many years.  A few months ago I made it a point to afford one!  I wish I had made this dream come true long time ago!!!

A close-up of the 1/4″  thickness of the Rhino cutting mat

The Rhino cutting mat comes in several standard sizes, however, you can place a special order for whatever size you need.  I ordered a 5′ x 6′ piece to fit on top of  my two folding tables that sit side by side; this custom-cut mat costed me a bit over $200 with shipping — I tell you, it is well worth the investment!!!

Underneath grid of Rhino cutting mat

The Rhino cutting mat is supplied with a printed grid the same size as the actual mat.  The weight of the mat and grid keeps the mat flat and from sliding around.

Seamless surface of the Rhino cutting mat

The best thing I totally enjoy about my Rhino cutting mat is the fact that there is no seam!!  There’s is no possibility of cutting a glitch in your fabric!!!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Tlingit Words & Chilkat Weaving Origins

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 4:12am

“Naaxein” is the Tlingit word for Chilkat weaving

During the Summer of 2013, a couple of my apprentices and I had volunteered to do Chilkat weaving demonstrations at the Sheldon Museum in Haines, Alaska.  While we were there, of course, they had a nice collection of Chilkat weavings from the area, and to our surprise some weaving terms in the Tlingit language!  So on behalf of the Sheldon Museum, I post some of the Chilkat weaving terms as well as the origin of Chilkat weaving according to an anthropologist from the turn of the century who wrote the book “The Chilkat Blanket, George Emmons.

In addition to the comment in the above photo made about Jennie Thlunaut’s signature, Jennie’s checkerboard “signature” was a pattern of yellow and blue.


Cost of a Chilkat robe back in the mid-1800’s was $30

Jennie had told me that she sold her first robe for $50.  If my memory serves me, it was the robe started by her mother who passed away when she was a young teenager.  She thought $50 was pretty good for a Chilkat robe; she had a confident smile on her face as she spoke.

“Kasek’xu” Tlingit word for dye

Jennie and Agnes Bellinger (Jennie’s daughter) told me the golden yellow was what weavers strived for and the best way to do this was all in the urine.   The best urine to make the golden yellow was urine from a woman in her last month of pregnancy; second best urine was from a newborn infant.  The way they collected the urine from a newborn was to place the “wolf moss” in the diaper and only collect #1 (as opposed to #2) and put the soaked wolf moss in the dye bath.  The older the baby, or child’s urine, the more pale the golden yellow.  Jennie and Agnes said there is no wolf moss in Southeast Alaska.  The moss was a trade item with the tribes on the other side of the coastal mountains in British Columbia, Canada.  The youth of the urine made the biggest difference in the color achieved and the set of the dye.

“Kakein” is Tlingit word for yarn

The mountain goat wool and cedar bark spin together as if they were mated for life; they are attracted to one another like bee to a flower!  Mountain goat hides are hard to come by; and even if they were easy to acquire, there are so many Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers on board, we would make the herds run away further up into the high barren mountains!  In the bio on Jennie Thlunaut here on my website under “Tributes,” there is a map showing the places where the men would hunt for mountain goat.  Today there are a couple of guys who hunt mountain goat.  We weavers need to do trades with these guys so we can let go of using the 2nd best wool that has replaced the mountain goat:  merino wool from New Zealand.  This wool is the closest fiber in the world next to the mountain goat.  It spins up okay, but not as fine as the bee and flower of cedar bark and mountain goat wool…!

Teey Woodi Tlingit for Cedar Bark

The Western yellow cedar is best o split because the strands are silky smooth (when wet), they pull out into longer strands than the cedar (which is more brittle), and when you spin the bark and wool (done on the thigh), your hands are not prone to the first layer of skin rubbing off!  Though if red cedar is all there is to collect, or someone gifted me some, then it is only sensible to not look the gift horse in the mouth.  You acquire what you can!  It is best to harvest the red cedar when the first sign of spring shows up with new green growth at the tips of the cedar tree boughs.

Chilkat weaving origins

There are several stories of the origin of where Chilkat weaving first began and how it came to and was retained in the Chilkat River Valley in Haines/Klukwan, Alaska.  The Nishga’a in the Nass River area claim the weaving originated in the Nass River and only the Nishga’a inhabitated the area, not the Tsimpshian.  The Tsimpshian from the Skeena River say Chilkat weaving originated there.  The weaving had died out because of western contact in both areas, but fortunately, as one of the stories go, a Chilkat chief married a weaver from the Nass River (or Skeena River?), and then another story says it was the other way around.  No matter what the story, all agree that there were specifically 4 sisters of a Raven Clan in Klukwan who unraveled the Chilkat apron to gain the knowledge of how the weaving was done.

Traditionally men designed the Chilkat robes because they were the artists of form line; women were the weavers…

Jennie said she finished a Chilkat robe in 6 months; she had pride on her face as she spoke.  I didn’t believe her at first, but after I learned her fingering of speed, accuracy and tension, and I applied her knowledge to my weavings of today, well……?




Categories: Arts & Culture

Clarissa Rizal Announces Her New Website!

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 9:53am

Northwest Coast Tlingit graduation cap designed by Clarissa Rizal painted and modeled by Ursala Hudson at her BA graduation — 2014

I have a new website with a few new tweaks to my blog, just launched last week on April 13th; I HAVE GRADUATED to a simpler, cleaner, and easy-to-navigate format to update:  It’s time to celebrate!  (Most artists that I know would rather spend their time creating instead of working on the computer, so the easier and faster computer time, the better for us all…!)

This is my fourth website since 1998; the first was created by my friend Cecil Touchon (www.ceciltouchon.com) nearly 20 years ago when there were not very many Native American artists’ websites.

I have been blogging since July 2010, nearly 5 years!  Unlike the past blog entries randomly posted when I could fit in the work, I will post new blog entries 3/x weekly with this schedule:

  • on Mondays and Thursdays and Saturdays by 12 midnight (Alaska, Pacific or Mountain time — all depends on where my business travel takes me!).

Blog posts will include the usual latest projects, art business travel, tools of the trade, people, classes, health topics, etc., though to continue helping out my fellow weavers in a more efficient manner, I have added a new section to my categories (column on the right) called “Tricks-of-the-Trade.”

All photographs on my website and blog were shot by myself unless otherwise noted.

  • For over 20 years, most of the photographs of my button robes and my chilkat weavings were taken by professional photographer Jeff Laydon at www.pagosaphotography.com.
  • I make an effort to give credit to any other  photographers.
  • Thank you to my ceremonial robe models the late Russ Eagle and my grand-daughter Amelie Haas.
  • My friend Russ had been modeling for me for nearly 15 years until his passing in 2009.
  • Five-year-old Amelie had her debut this past March modelling my “Chilkat Child” 5-piece weaving ensemble.

I have begun formatting my photographs larger; people want to SEE!

  • I also will aim towards shooting more interesting shots, maybe at different angles
  • maybe I’ll even tweak them too, because I CAN!
  • Click photos on my website to enlarge; the blog photos are what they are
  • Ursala says I ought to buy myself a SLR camera to produce better photos, though at this time I cannot afford spending $500-$1000.
  • Blogs and websites are much more interesting with better photography and golly, shooting from my old iPhone I guess just doesn’t tickle anybody’s fancy does it!
  • Hold on, dear readers, the money for a real camera will come some day!

As time permits, I will be adding one more topic to my website:  a “Tributes” page to honor  mainly Tlingit elders who have helped me on my path as a full-time Tlingit artist for nearly 40 years.  My “Tributes” page will include those of have passed including:

  • grandparents, Juan and Mary Sarabia
  • parents William and Irene Lampe
  • very first mentor/teacher Tlingit chief from Yakutat, Harry K. Bremner, Sr. who gave me my very first sewing lessons along with Tlingit song and dance instruction, and
  • mentor/teacher of Chilkat weaving, Jennie Thlunaut
  • my apprenticeship with Jennie Thlunaut

Thank you to my daughter, Ursala Hudson for working hard last weekend to create and launch  my website by my deadline!  Check Ursala’s graphic design/web design work on her website at:  www.whiterabbitstudio.us

Categories: Arts & Culture

Suggested Exercise For Weavers

Sun, 04/19/2015 - 5:02pm

Tibetan 5 Rites – from Qi Gong class – 1994 — Suggested number of times for each separate movement is 5

Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers will sit for many hours at a time enjoying ourselves as we watch our weavings come to life; it’s always exciting!  To counterbalance the long hours of sitting, the above simple movements can help keep us flexible.   Our bodies are vehicles, they are a tool to help us enjoy, achieve, create, re-create and live our lives.  More often than not, every one of us abuse and/or ignore our bodies in some form or another and we wonder how come we don’t feel or look good?  If we desire longevity with our current capabilities to be mobile and continue creating our weavings, we need to incorporate good health habits now and always.

Like many of us indigenous folk, there are many ways I had kept fit naturally while maintaining every-day life:  I used to live up three flights of stairs and hauled everything from firewood, to kids, to groceries, musical instruments, costumes and props, weaving looms, pounds of fresh caught fish and lots of 5-gallon buckets of fresh berries, painting and art supplies, furniture, new washer, dryer, refigerator and piano.  I once had a landscape company for 13 years where I specialized in building rock walls and digging up indigenous plants hauling them from the woods or beach and replanting with domestic plants and trees.  Living this way is a wholistic approach to keeping healthy, physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally.   I enjoyed silent pride in the strength of my body, mind and spirit.  And instead of signing up for a gym membership, I got paid to “work out.”

I am no longer that active; haven’t been for the past 20 years since I left Alaska part time, and especially the past 7 years since all the family changes that took place during this time period.   Slowly but surely, I gotta admit, even though I am not overweight per se, my muscles have all gone flabby.  I know it ain’t easy for you to read this, but there you have it; that’s what I get for pushing 60 and no longer living on 3 flights of stairs.

Two weeks ago, when I caught a glimpse of myself jumping down from the attic steps and I saw all that shaking going on in my arms, I was flabbergasted!  Or maybe I ought to say “flabby – gasted…?”  I also found out that I have lost some hearing in my left ear.  When I asked my Left Hand Corner what to do about possibly regaining the hearing or at least not losing any more of it, the answer was:  do the “Tibetan 5 Rites…”   Huh?  Okay, I’m not going to argue.   Like my usual self, when I see or experience something I don’t like, if it’s in my personal power to do something about it, I’ll make a change.

I used to do these 5 Tibetan Rites years ago when I had learned Tai Chi, and they were very easy, no problem.  Two weeks ago on the very first day of doing these rites, I discovered how weak my body was; I could barely hold myself up without shaking, and some of the moves I could only do twice.   I was surprised, yet not.  Today, I do the recommended dosage of moves:  5 of each of the 5 moves.  With my meditative exercise plan, I have integrated a few Qi Gong movements along with a simple version of a Tai Chi movement.  It feels good to feel my body becoming stronger.

God willing, I have every intention of being as healthy as I possibly can while aging into the last 1/4 century of my life.  I’ve got lots of things I still must do before I kick any bucket.  And when I kick that bucket, I would rather avoid any shaking flab!

Categories: Arts & Culture


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