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Museums - Chilkat Acquisition

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April 8, 2019

Ketchikan Museums has been awarded a $35,000 Art Acquisition grant through Museums Alaska with funding from the Rasmuson Foundation to acquire a full-sized Chilkat robe created by master weaver, Dorica Jackson. This grant supplements $15,000 in Museum funds.

Chilkat weaving, a complex textile weaving method which translates the curvature of formline design into warp and weft, was all but extinct with only two known weavers remaining in 1972. Unique to the Northwest Coast, Chilkat robes remain rare and are considered highly valued property. Traditionally woven from yellow cedar bark and mountain goat wool, robes require at least one year of prepping materials and weaving.

Dorica Jackson began preparing materials for the Diving Whale Chilkat robe in 2002. Jackson remained committed to finishing the robe but worked full-time as an office manager, leaving only limited time to weave. The robe was completed in September 2018 after several years of weaving at the Totem Heritage Center.

Jackson started learning Chilkat weaving early in the endangered art form’s time of recovery and revival and is credited with being one of the first weavers to complete a contemporary Chilkat robe, a 1975 National Park Service commission. Her second full-sized robe was woven for her husband, Tlingit master carver Nathan Jackson.

This full-sized Chilkat robe is Dorica Jackson’s third. The robe’s diving whale design comes from The Basketry of the Tlingit and the Chilkat Blanket by George Emmons. Jackson chose this particular design as it presented a "good weaving challenge" with proper balance and continuity in the formline.

Throughout Jackson’s time weaving the robe at the Totem Heritage Center, she encouraged local weavers to examine her techniques, material preparation, and dye process. This instruction is nothing new for Jackson, as she has taught Chilkat weaving over the years through the Center’s Native Arts Studies Program. By mastering the techniques of Chilkat weaving and teaching others, Dorica Jackson has been instrumental in helping to preserve this art form.

Dorica Jackson’s Chilkat robe will be incorporated into exhibition updates at the Totem Heritage Center. Displaying this exemplary local piece will provide public access to the robe in order to educate and engage our community and visitors alike, as well as researchers and weaving students. Weavers of Ketchikan played a vital role in perpetuating the continuation of Chilkat weaving—collecting, preserving and exhibiting a full-sized robe from Ketchikan represents this continuum of local weaving tradition and innovation while beautifully illustrating the heart of the Totem Heritage Center's mission of fostering the living artistic traditions of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.