Sealaska Heritage Institute has acquired a rare cedar-bark Haida mat traditionally used as bedding or as room dividers in clan houses plus two old halibut hooks.
The items were kept in the seller’s family for generations, and the seller approached the institute because she wanted them to stay in Southeast Alaska, said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting the mat is very rare.
“Haida cedar mats of this quality don’t very often come up for sale, so we were really pleased when they brought it here,” Worl said. “It’s a beautiful mat. It’s in great condition, despite its age.”
The halibut hooks are unusual because it appears they were used to fish, as opposed to similar hooks made for display. One of the hooks appears to have grooves made by fish teeth, said Worl, adding that preliminary assessments date all of the items to around circa 1900.
The institute acquires cultural objects and archival materials for research purposes and to preserve the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian histories. Although grant funds are available for purchase of new art, it’s difficult to find funds for old objects. The institute was able to purchase the mat by using donations received in 2010 from the Pick.Click.Give program, which allows Alaskans to donate a part of their permanent fund dividends to Sealaska Heritage Institute and other nonprofits.
“The permanent fund donations don’t make that kind of designation —that it’s only for newer objects — it gives us the flexibility to use money to acquire things that are really important for our exhibitions,” Worl said.
The institute plans to show the mat to cedar-bark weavers to encourage more artists to make traditional mats.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a Native nonprofit established in 1980 to administer educational and cultural programs for Sealaska, a regional Native corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The institute’s mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.
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