A look at the indigenous art in Alaska

Lily Hope Interview


My name is Charlotte Nicolet, I’m here to represent my class, Native Arts of Alaska. And out group. Can you tell me about yourself

I am a 38 year old *in audible* textiles that I make. I also teach both styles pretty consistently and also teach in Canada. My mother was Clarissa who was one of Jenny’s last students and apprentices and she taught me how to do these weavings in the traditional way. So she actually didn’t want me to participate in whatever she was doing, and she said ,’Oh here’s some work, I want to show you how to do’, and then she’d pull out her robing and cedar bark and say, “Wanna see something cool?’, and she’s say, “Look at this, you take the two pieces like this and you spin it with the bark inside, and isn’t that fun?’ And we’d spin on our leg like this, and so she’d show me and I was you know 11, 12, 13 (years old). I thought that was pretty neat and I got to hand out with my mom. So I was, I wanted to be around her and I ended up spinning thousands of yards for her robes that she was making and, and then I spun a thousand yards for a friend of hers. Helen VanderHoop who is now one of my mentors, it’s wonderful. My mother and Helen started weaving at the same time, and anyway yeah. So I find myself weaving in this way and teaching in this way because my mother kind of led me to it. I was gonna be an actor, I was gonna be a, you know, something else, and I still enjoy performing. I still enjoy performing arts and I’m still paid as a traditional story teller, and that kind of thing, but this is my, this is my other work. This is my work and the other stuff if my placing (?). And we are Raven *native tongue* from the snail house. My mother’s mother’s mother’s people originate from Hoonah, Alaska. We’re Raven *native tongue* .

C: Is this your mom here, in the photo?

Lily: Yeah, that’s my mom. She passed away in December of 2016. And I was half way done with my first chilkat blanket, which I had woven with her either sitting in the same room with me, or we’d be on FaceTime. I’d take my phone on my leg and she’d put her phone on her leg. She was finishing her last row of weaving and I’d like hold my phone up and say, “Is this correct, should I come over a little bit more?’ and you know, ask a question. We’d talk about that for a little bit and then we’d set our phones down and the phone would be facing up on our hands as we’re weaving on our rows, thousands of miles away. So we got to weave the first half of my robe together, it was pretty amazing. Mostly everyday I’d have a question or we’d talk for hours in this way with the FaceTime. And then she passed away and I was like, “Wait, come back! Like hello, how do I finish this?’. So, and then that’s a funny story because I was working like one or two classes (?) at a time, for almost seven years, to become a teacher, an elementary school teacher. And, because of eight years ago, I got this message that said, “You will be a teacher’, and I was like, “Oh, I’ll be a teacher? Okay’. So I started taking all these little classes to become an elementary school teacher, took all the praxis exams, all that kind of stuff and was on the road to graduate with that and then my mom died. And I was like, “wait I wasn’t supposed to be an elementary school teacher, I was supposed to be a weaving teacher, what!’. So when you get a message like that, ask, “what kind? What kind of teacher.’

C: yes. Oh that’s fascinating. So you do traditional work, what about your work do you see as kind of contemporary, that from your time that you add to it?
L: Sure. I try to think of myself as a traditionalist, or a traditional artist. I definitely follow the rules as they were given to me, the guidelines as they were given to me, like “we don’t use red in the place of yellow’, and, “we don’t weave five fingered hands into our chilkat blankets’, and I can’t deviate from that because of my training, because of the way my mother taught me. That this is the way that we construct these robes. They are done in a certain way because. And I don’t ask why, like “why did they do that there? Why didn’t they do this?’ I do it they way I was taught and that’s how I’m holding on to the tradition. And then, I come and see the old robes that are transition robes, so they have a little bit of the geometric designs or mostly geometric designs and then a little bit of the eyes, or a little bit of the chilkat face in them and I’m bring that back into the work of merging the Raven’s patterns and the chilkat designs. And that’s the way that I’m kind of modernizing or contemporary-izing them. I’m also using merino wool instead of mountain goat because if you know any hunters who want to break the law and you know, go get mountain goat in the springtime when they have the most hair on them to use, or if know somebody who has seven or eight hides sitting around, I’d love to use them but, merino wool is really close in fiber to the mountain goat and readily available. So that’s another way we’re kind of growing with the art form. As goats are less available to us and I want to keep weaving.

C: about the dyes?

L: let’s see. This is my second full sized chilkat blanket, and my mother taught me to weave in this bright yellow and the brighter saturation of turquoise and I always wanted to weave in a buttery yellow. Like if you look at robes that are 300 years old, they’re like this light, light yellow color. And I said, “please, can I weave an old one that like looks like it’s 300 years old’, and she said over and over, “do you want this yellow border to be yellow in 300 years? Or do you want it to be white? Because if you start with that faded yellow, that looks like it’s already 300 years old, it\s gonna be a white border, you’re gonna have white shapes in here in 300 years.’ and I’m like, “I’m not gonna be here in 300 years, why do..?’. You know, so I get it. So I use the bright colors and these were both hand dyed, the turquoise and the yellow. I dyed these myself, by my mother’s specifications. So this is matching the colors that she last used. And then the black is dyed with the Luett (?) yarn company, a Canadian company, and the white is just the natural merino wool. So I was taught to dye this way although I just dyed my first batch with my apprentice, we just dyed our first batch of yellow using wolf moss and human urine. And it’s brighter than the 300 year old yellow and it’s a little less bright than this, so we get to weave with it next, I’m very excited. And we already have our copper so we can *in audbile* to make the bluish color that’s coming next. We get to dye that next. And I’m hoping to teach a dye class at the university at UAS come springtime, using the traditional materials. So that’s where we’re bring that back to life. Although I don’t think it’s really dead, you know? It’s just fallen out of common use, and so we’re just gonna… yeah, have some fun with dying.

C: how about the baby socks?

L: OH yeah. So these guys, if you look at the old photographs, these robes were often woving outside. So this would have been leaning up against a house. And then these little socks at the bottom would have been made out of little guy bags, like a little bag that goes around and keeps all of the bungle ropes at the bottom so they don’t get dirty when it’s outside. And to keep them from draggings and getting tangled. So since I don’t have gut bags, and since I have five children, I thought I’d used some of the baby socks.

C: That works great. So, some questions from the group. They would like to know what your favorite piece is.

L: Oh, what’s my favorite piece? My favorite piece hasn’t been woven yet. My favorite piece is a mantle if you would call it that. It’s kind of like Maleficent’s collar. It stands up like this. It has the according of like a corset in the body of this neck piece, so it comes up and has a collar that stands. It has panels that come down this way that are also woven. Very simple design, probably like this lavice, or something like that. Very, very simple and elegant. Maybe with some little eyes down right at the bottom. And on the back of this piece to make the collar stand up, it’s going to have a, the collar will stand but to stay, it has to be woven about midway down the back. So looking at it straight on from the back, it’s going to have that collar but then come down at this tapered shape and then round out at the bottom. And so looking at it straight on from the back it will look like a *native tongue/in audible*. It will have braids going through it like this, and across there in the back. And then in that curved collar piece, there will be this one central eye. All the rest will be just white.

C: Sounds fantastic.

L:That’s my performance slash presentation piece. It isn’t woven yet, but it’s in there. Percolating around.

C: Yeah, yeah that sounds fantastic. They would also like to know who your favorite artist is.

L: Oh gosh, my favorite artists are the ones who take the world and, no let’s see how do I say this. My favorite artists are the ones who are expressing their view of the world in their unique way and I think that goes for pretty much any artist but I really like the abstract ones’. *In audible’ quirky, Picasso. What’s his name? Dolly, who melts the clocks. Ones that are like, “Is that really art? Really?’ Rothco in particular like really shakes me up because I’m like, “You just really painted 11 canvases all in the same color. This is art? This is supposed to be the thing?’ You know, so I like that stuff that makes me think and make me go, “is that legit art?’ and then it leads me into thinking that I never think of myself as a textile artist, I think of myself as a chilkat weaver. But then I start Googling textile artists and this is textile art and there’s a huge community of artists of there. Well how does this, fit into that even though it’s like 500 years old? I mean I guess dolly making and like lace tablecloth making is hundreds of years, thousands of years old. So I’m like that I’ve like put myself in this bubble of “I’m one of a dozen chilkat weavers, but I’m one of like thousands of textile artists’. And so thinking of that like, my community is not this small its huge and I’m loving that part and it doesn’t have to stay in textile, that the form can be on canvas, that it can be collaged and it can be photographed and all sorts of other mediums to have this have a voice. So I guess that’s a long answer for my favorite artists.

C: That was beautiful. The next question, do you have a specific feature in every piece that makes it uniquely yours? Or a specific style that you’d say that makes it uniquely yours?

L: Yes, as far as chilkat robes go, my robes always have the border here woven in what’s called “Harris twed (?)’, and I didn’t know this was harris twead, it was just saving some time, that the border is woven over three pins, not two not four. Like anywhere else you’d seen in the robe would be woven over two, or over fours. I weave my borders, usually the black and yellow borders, woven over three pins. And so it creates this really interesting texture, and when you get really close to it, there’s a little bit of a slant happening, this little pattern and little texture in here. So that is my little bit crazy signature. So when you go back in time you’ll be able to look that black border and say, “how come that has a different texture than all the other borders?’. It’s because of the pin. And I’m a little bit crazy because once you get the black border all the way down to the bottom, and the whole thing has to curve a little bit, it is a mathematical headache to those to match up, because you’re adding warps at the very bottom. So it adds a little time at the end of my weaving, but I love the texture and the look of it so that’s my one signature.

C: okay, thank you. Do you have any messages in your artwork that you would like to express?

L: I don’t know if it’s built into the art pieces themselves, but it’s built into the way that I work that our traditions are enough. And that retaining the teachings the way that are taught to us is the way that we honor our teachers and the way that we keep our cultures alive with the integrity of our teachers built into our work. Thats, I mean, you don’t get to see that necessarily by just looking at a piece unless you know a little bit of the history, kind of like a totem pole or something like that. But I hope that when you look at my work, and the work from 300 years ago and say, “oh look, she kind of knows what she’s doing, she’s kind of following her ancestors’.

C: That’s fantastic. So the next question is I think you might have already answered this, but what makes you do what you do?

L: Yeah, I weave the best on a deadline and with company. I wove the majority of my first chilkat blanket in public, at the Sea Alaska Heritage institute (at the) artist and residence space. So I had set hours day, I was there 5 hours a day and my door was open for anyone who wants to come in. Sometimes they’d come in for cookies or if anyone wanted tea with me. That was motivating to me because I was born as a performing artist or as a teacher. So people would come in and I’d share where I was at, or how the colors were made, that kind of thing. So I weave not just to honor my mother and keep the work going, but I weave so that there’s a record of how to keep doing this that I can share this progress with who ever is willing to come. I would say that my ideal composition would be teaching 60% of the time, teaching 40% of the time. And if my weaving that I’m doing for 40% of my life is with other people also weaving, and I can reach over and help them or feed off of each other in the process, I think that would be the ideal life for me. This is usually a very isolating activity and I thrive around other people so i have to go find my people and keep weaving.

C: So you see that in your future?

L: I’m building it so that I can have studio space and that it’s open door so that other weavers can come and sit by me during my hours. I also have an apprentice that is with me most of the time when I’m weaving and she’s working on her two other projects. And right now, tomorrow actually, we’re working on circles because there’s gonna be circles right there. And she’s gonna be right there to weave the eyes on her little face that she has. So we’re gonna work on circles tomorrow.

C: How long does it take you to do one?

L: Yeah, my first chilkat blanket took almost 1700 hours, and we did the math that that’s upwards of almost 50 weeks, about 37 hours a week. It was on the loom for about 19 months. So I’m anticipating this one to be done by almost September of next year, which is a full year from now, or ten months from now. And it will be woven, so this will be a front facing bird in here. And then the body of the bird will show on the chilkat face. It’ll have little feathers here. And then there’s another raven head hear, with a wing going this way. So it’s going to be woven to about down to here, and then the rest will be fringe. So about this much fringe hanging off of there. And this much woven, including the borders. So, it will probably be upwards of 1500 hours to finish.

C: is this a commission? Or?

L: This is a commision. It’s for an art collector in Washington state.

C: It will be fantastic to see if when it’s done.

L: I know, that’s what, we’re already planning on how to make it come alive in dance. My mother always said, “You take the robe, and having a cutting off the loom ceremony’. Because we take the scissors and cut it free and cut it down from it’s frame and let it have some dancing, let it move for a while and breath. Because wherever its going, to a museum or a collector or whatever, it will spend a lot of time in a drawer or on a wall. And so to bring the spirit of the work alive, we’re gonna have it move first.

C: Are you gonna film it?

L: I hope so.

C: Fantastic. Thank you so much, thank you so much for doing this interview with us, and hope to see you again.

L: I do too, yeah. Thanks.
C: Is there anything you would like to add, before we go?

L: I think there’s one thing. Let’s see. I found an article recently that my mother had done an interview before for Sea Alaska Corporation and they had recorded one class that she had taught for Jenny, her teacher’s, Jenny Clayonce’s grand daughters. And during the interview she was talking about how amazing it was to be able to pass on her teacher’s descendants and how she hopes that her children will carry on the work and teach it to their children. And I guess I never really realized, I mean I guess I was 10 years old, and she had this plan the whole time . And I had no idea.I was just saying, “Yes, sure I’ll go there. Or sure I’ll help with that. Or sure I want to know how to make a circle , sure’. And then when she started teaching in 2010, she taught a class in chilkat weaving and there were too many students for her to help all at once and she said, “You’re gonna co-teach this with me,’ and I said, “Yeah but I weave this raven’s tail stuff, I don’t weave chilkat’. And she said, “Well you’re gonna learn, you’re just gonna copy what I say,’ and so I started teaching with her during that class. And at the end of that two week session, she said “now you’re a chilkat weaver’. And I said, “What?’. So she really snuck me into it, I had no idea. And, now I’m a chilkat weaver. And I’m happy I have four daughters and a son who’s really interested in learning the fiber stuff and spinning with me and all that. And I look forward to passing it on to them.

C: Absolutely. That is fantastic. Thank you very much for sharing that.

L:Yeah I didn’t know, you know I.. It’s weird. It’s so weird, I don’t know. Cause like what you (Charlotte) said, we think we’re on this path of trajectory. And then like that didn’t work out, this didn’t work out. Oh wait I’m supposed to be a chilkat weaver? Oh good, I’m here now. Doors have opened. And I’m listening to this podcast about how we can let go of doubt or fears around our professional life. Or around things that we have ideas about and I was listening to it going, “I don’t have any doubts, I don’t have any doubts about who I’m supposed to be, or what I’m supposed to be doing’, and that’s a huge gift. It’s a huge gift to realize I don’t have to struggle with what it is I’m supposed to do. Why am I here? I’m here to weave. And Im here to teach, to share the knowledhye . ANd make sure that someone, hopefully 5 or 6 or 7, will carry this on when I’m gone/

C: That’s fantastic.

L: Sorry, I’m crazy about it. And I think that’s the consistent sorry with most weavers, or most anyone who has an art form that’s like, “there’s only six of us who are doing this everyday’.

C:Thank you very much, you’ve been awesome.