Chilkoot Indian Association launches traditional arts apprenticeship program

Two women weaving a blanket
Mentor Lily Hope (right) and apprentice Karen Taug begin the first two rows of her Chilkat blanket (Photo courtesy of Scott Burton)

The Chilkoot Indian Association has launched a traditional Lingít arts apprenticeship program. The year-long initiative will pair mentors with apprentices to develop traditional skills — and to foster vital cultural and traditional knowledge of the Chilkat Valley.

The first cohort of the Chilkoot Indian Association’s traditional arts apprenticeship program, focused on Chilkat weaving and silver carving, began earlier this month.

Tribal administrator Harriet Brouillette says the apprenticeship program is part of a wider initiative to support tribal members developing their art.

“Our apprenticeship program is a way to develop master artists. What we have been seeing in our community is that we’re losing our master artists,” Brouillette said. “Thanks to AIA (Alaska Indian Arts), we do have some master artists, but they’re reaching retirement age. And we don’t have the capacity or have not had the capacity to build master artists to step up in their place.”

Three mentors will work with four apprentices over the next year to build skills and creativity while expanding intergenerational cultural and traditional knowledge.

Mentors include weaver Lily Hope, who will work with Karen Taug on dying and weaving techniques, versions of the Chilkat braid and how to weave a perfect circle.

Master weaver and fluent Lingít speaker Marsha Hotch will work with Cara Gilbert and Gwen Sauser on weaving techniques, language connections, clan stories, goat wool processing and dying, thigh spinning and incorporating cedar bark.

Apprentices Gilbert and Sauser are the great-granddaughters of renowned Chilkat weaver Jenny Thlunaut.

Silver carver Greg Horner will work with apprentice Rob Martin on soldering, making rings, inlaying gems and stones and silver working skills.

Brouillette says it’s vital to support artists, who then will pass down their craft to future generations.

“We have a really strong base of new artists who are dedicated to their art. They just need a little extra help,” Brouillette said.

A federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will support the program. Apprentices and mentors will give workshops and write blog posts about their processes. At the end of the year, their work will be showcased in a community exhibit.

The Chilkoot Indian Association is accepting applications for the second cohort, which will begin Oct. 1.

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