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Chilkoot Indian Association launches traditional arts apprenticeship program

Mentor Lily Hope (right) and apprentice Karen Taug begin the first two rows of her Chilkat Blanket (Photo by Scott Burton)

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

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

Chilkoot Indian Association tribal administrator Harriet Brouillette says the apprenticeship program is part of a wider initiative to support tribal members developing their art, and traditional skills and craft of the Chilkat Valley.

“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. “We have actually, 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 artist mentors will work with four apprentices over the next year. They will increase traditional skill level, creativity, and expand 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, inlay gems and stones, and skills of silver working.

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. “So we’re matching them with master artists. And the idea is that with this program, we will be able to develop master artists of our own and then they will be able to help the next generation.”

A federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will support the program. Apprentices and mentors will document their process with blog postings, provide a workshop, and at the end of the year, final products will be showcased in a community exhibit.

The Chilkoot Indian Association is accepting applications for the second cohort, which will begin October 1st. See the application here.