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  • “When We Put Our Hands and Hearts in One Place”: Chilkat Weaving with Lily Hope

    This week, Lily Hope recreated an archival photo of her mother’s mentor, Jennie Thlunaut, taken forty years ago at the 1984 Folklife Festival. Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    Alaska State Library – Historical Collections

    Lily Hope’s earliest memory of Chilkat weaving begins in her childhood bedroom in Juneau, Alaska—filled with resentment.

    Even as a young girl, Hope understood the importance of Chilkat weaving—a form of woven documentation—to the record-keeping and celebration of the tribal histories of the Pacific Northwest. Her mother, Clarissa Rizal of the Tlingit Nation, was an established Chilkat weaver who trained under master weaver Jennie Thlunaut. Even so, Hope (Tlingit of the Raven moiety and the T’akdeintaan clan) wanted nothing to do with it.

    Every day, she watched her mother tirelessly weave ceremonial Chilkat dancing robes and other tribal regalia for officials and members of the various tribes of the Pacific Northwest. But for a teenager, it just took too much time and patience. So when Hope awoke one morning to a weaving frame standing next to her bed, she knew she had her work cut out for her.

    “She wouldn’t let me leave the house and go socialize until I wove a certain number of rows each day,” she recalled. “I’d have to show her my progress, and I’d be like, ‘There, I did it already, ugh!’”

    Fourteen-year-old Hope found that her frustration was reflected in her weaving. Despite her daughter’s reluctance, Rizal found creative ways to teach her daughter the art. As Hope began to work with her mother willingly, the process improved.

    “My first dancing leggings were completely tapered because I was mad and tense about the whole thing. My second leggings were completely straight and much better. I guess, I breathed more into it.”

    A woman points at a black design printed on a clear plastic sheet, laid over the warp of weaving in progress.
    Hope uses transparencies to aid in her weaving process. Each row, she says, typically takes her thirty minutes to weave.
    Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    No longer a stubborn teenager, Hope supported her mother by dyeing and spinning the wool for her projects, but she didn’t seriously begin weaving again until 2002, when she took a class in Juneau at the University of Alaska Southeast. Like many young adults, she struggled with the question of what to do with the rest of her life.

    “I kept coming back to weaving, not necessarily for the finger-twining itself, but for the community that was offered. It was another place to co-create with people, and I think that the best part about being human is what we create when we put our hands and hearts in one place.”

    Today, Hope is, herself, a Ravenstail and Chilkat weaver, storyteller, teacher, and mother. In our conversation, she reiterated the importance of community in her work and shared her wish to expand the community of people who recognize and appreciate Chilkat weaving.

    “I care about the world expansion and knowledge of Northwest Coast textiles as ceremonial and contemporary works of art—that they’re not just for Native peoples, although there are some pieces that are only for Native people. They are worthy of the title ‘fine art.’”

    Hope says a greater recognition for Chilkat weaving would mean a generational change in society.

    Recently, when she was recognized and offered a complimentary ride on the tram in Juneau, her twelve-year-old son, Louis, was perplexed. Louis, who Hope claims is uninterested in her weaving, couldn’t believe that her art earned them such special treatment.

    “He made the comment the other day like, ‘We got a complimentary ride down the tram just because you weave earrings?’ And I was like, ‘Hey, I do a little bit more than just weave earrings.’”

    A baby sticks his head through the vertical warp of yarn on a loom, held open by a young women who smiles at him.
    Photo courtesy of Lily Hope

    But, just as it had for her near that age, something must have sunk in. That same week, when an annoyed Hope reached to silence Louis’s constantly dinging iPad, she couldn’t believe what she saw: his new screensaver was an old family photo taken in his mother’s studio. A one-year-old Louis is peeking through his mother’s warp, as she stares adoringly at her baby boy. Hope was touched; this gesture seemed to signify a change in her son, a change in appreciation, and a tangible show that her son not only acknowledged his mother’s work but took pride in it too.

    “I ran down the stairs, and I hugged him. I was like, ‘I didn’t know that this was meaningful to you.’”

    Today, Hope stands as one of the most awarded Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers in the world. Her works have been featured in many esteemed galleries and are part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. Her portfolio also includes pieces that reflect the contemporary experiences of Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, including Chilkat Protector, a COVID-19 face mask designed in the traditional Chilkat style.

    This summer, Hope has followed in the footsteps of her mother’s mentor, Jennie Thlunaut, who shared her art at the 1984 Smithsonian Folklife Festival when Alaska was a featured state. As part of the 2024 Indigenous Voices of the Americas program, Hope is offering weaving demonstrations, telling traditional Tlingit stories, discussing cultural transmission, and selling woven earrings, enamel pins, and weaving kits in the National Museum of the American Indian’s gift shop.

    Although she has accolades to spare, Hope claims that the greatest award she could ever receive would be to see a world where her art is not only seen but also recognized and sustained.

    “My main goal is that someday—maybe not in my lifetime, but someday—people will see these textiles and say, ‘Oh, I know what that is, I know where it’s made, and I know that there are still people making them.”

    A woman poses next to her weaving in progress.
    Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    Lauren Hogg is a writing intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a senior at Georgetown University, majoring in American studies.

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