While at a Tlingit culture camp this summer with her brother-in-law, Janice Roberts-Kahklen saw the artistry of a traditional button blanket as if for the first time.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so beautiful,’” she said.
An accomplished sewer, she quickly got to work on her own designs at home, surprising even herself with what she managed to create.
“My brother in law said, ‘How did you get so smart so fast?’”
“I didn’t even know I could do this,” she said with a laugh.
Roberts-Kahklen, 59, had been exposed to traditional Tlingit art techniques before, but she’d never been very interested in them. Quitting drinking last August gave her new energy and a new perspective.
“When I was drinking, I felt ashamed of myself because I wanted to keep up with my culture, but I never did,” she said.
Roberts-Kahklen is one of the artists who will be participating in the Art of Recovery show opening Friday at the Silverbow back Room. The show, one of many activities scheduled for September, National Recovery Month, celebrates artists who are in recovery from addiction or mental illness.
Other events this month include a film festival, a recovery walk and a poetry jam. (For a schedule, see page C2.)
One of the local social service agencies that’s helping to coordinate artists contributions to the Art of Recovery show is Polaris House. A freestanding agency originally formed in 2002 by NAMI Juneau, Polaris House is now organized in accordance with the International Standards for Clubhouse Program. The clubhouse model is designed to help people with mental illness stay out of the hospital while they are achieving their goals — vocational, social, financial and educational.
In addition to having a mental illness, some Polaris House members also struggle with some sort of substance abuse or alcoholism, said executive director Dorothy Green. For many, art plays a big role in the recovery process, she said, and the facility works to support it in whatever ways they can.
“For most of our members that do art, it’s a huge part of their recovery and a way to express themselves,” she said.
The clubhouse, which has about 100 active members and hosts about 25 regular visitors each day, doesn’t regularly offer art instruction or activities on site, but rather makes it easier for members to create art on their own, whether by helping them procure supplies, connecting them with a mentor, or displaying their creations in the front room of Polaris House. Encouragement for the arts also often comes from other members themselves, Green said.
“A lot of our members have shown their art in past years, and that’s been a very positive experience for them,” Green said. “So that’s encouraged others to want to display their art.”
Staff member Greg Martini, who is also a participating artist in the show, said he’s gathered tons of art from Polaris House members for the show, from carvings and drawings to jewelry and birdhouses.
Roberts-Kahklen’s contribution will be a beaded headband made with lamb fur, silver bugle beads, turquoise beads, abalone buttons and red felt. She’ll also have an eagle cut out design that includes mink fur, white buttons and red felt. Roberts-Kahklen, originally from Klawock, is also working on a Raven design in honor of her father, Daniel Kahklen, and hopes to finish that piece by Friday as well.
Roberts-Kahklen is enthusiastic about her new work, and well on her way to creating more.
“I just didn’t like to do it (before),” she said. “But I do now!”