Sunday, August 15, 2021

Lily Hope and the Chilkat Protector

As we are getting older, we are doing less collecting and instead donating to various institutions. Occasionally, however, we come across a work of art that we cannot pass up, assuming it is affordable.

There is a magazine devoted to Native American Art called, “First American Art” and the cover of a recent issue showed a fellow wearing a stunning face mask. Not so surprising these days when one sees masks of different types all over.

This mask, however, was really special, beautifully woven in the Chilcat tradition. I looked up the artist, Lily Hope, online and liked what I saw. Concentrating on the art from the southwest pueblos we had never collected Indian art from the Northwest Coast so I asked my wife if we should acquire a mask like this and she was equally enthusiastic. It so beautifully marks a moment in time.

I got in touch with the artist last April and told her I wanted a mask like the one on the magazine cover. She replied that she would only have a chance to make it in July. I agreed. She wanted me to sign a contract, something I had never done before for a commissioned piece. But, of course, Lily had never met us, so I read her contract and signed. In section one she describes the work:

Artwork: Chilkat Protector Mask, 2021 (“Artwork”)
Materials/Techniques: Chilkat weaving techniques using thigh-spun warp of merino wool and cedar bark, Merino weft yarns (in the original Chilkat blue), Ermine tails, Tin cones
Dimensions: approx. 7.75 in x 4. in. woven, plus 3-4 inches fringe

It arrived at the end of last month as described.

From Wikipedia: “Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. Chilkat blankets are worn by high-ranking tribal members at civic or ceremonial occasions, including dances.” Here is Lily Hope wearing one of the traditional blankets she created so you can see how she adapted the motifs for her masks.

Lily Hope (1980-) is a Tlingit Indian of the Raven clan, born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. She learned the traditional Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving techniques from her mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Theatre as well as a Business and Entrepreneurship Certificate from Institute of American Indian Arts. Further she wrote to me “I am two classes away from finishing a master’s in teaching, Elementary Education, but I will never finish that degree, as my life work is obviously to teach and continue weaving Chilkat and Ravenstail textiles.” She might not have a certificate, but she has so much more. Lily has the experience of many generations to pass on through the non-profit, “Spirit Uprising” she co-founded to maintain Tlingit traditions and their weaving arts.

Her work can be found in private collections and a number of museums. including, The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, The Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, The Museum of Nature & Man, Freiburg, Germany, The Anchorage Museum and The Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe. I had already commissioned a mask from Lily, when I saw the one she created for the exhibition “#mask: Creative Responses to the Global Pandemic” at the Museum of International Folk Art here in Santa Fe.

It was only the encouragement of several people that that lead Lily to create her first mask. In an interview with First American Art Magazine, she recounted:

“I wasn’t making it with the intention of selling it. Which is funny to think I didn’t have a buyer in mind, and since then I have woven ten of those masks. I really wasn’t looking for something else to do but it came up and there was enough interest that I was like, ‘Oh, I should probably keep doing this’”

The video link here shows more than Lily Hope’s weaving technique. As she put it, “My video artist statement kind of sums up my work philosophy.” It may seem a bit mystical to some, but it expresses the true emotions of many Native American artists I have met.

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