Sealaska Heritage Institute
The Monroe Foundation has donated an exquisite Chilkat robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) in an effort to return it to its homeland.
The piece, which is small and apparently made for a child, was woven in the traditional way using cedar bark. The robe’s exact origins and the name of the weaver are unknown.
“We believe Sealaska Heritage is where this amazing blanket needs to be, especially because of its cultural value to Indigenous peoples,” the Monroe Foundation President Amanda B. Angaiak said. “We are grateful to have it in its proper home, especially as it can assist in educating future generations.”
The foundation–located in Fairbanks, Alaska–is a nonprofit established in 1958 to support and advance the goals and programs of the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks.
The foundation received the robe as a gift, and the piece is thought to be valued at $18,000. The piece was donated to SHI so it would be made available to weaving students to study, Angaiak said.
SHI President Rosita Worl called the donation “breathtaking.”
“We are incredibly grateful to the foundation for donating the robe to Sealaska Heritage, where it may be studied by artists for many years to come and will be cared for to the highest standards. The generosity of this donor is humbling and stunning, and we are thankful almost beyond words,” Worl said.
In response, SHI is mailing educational materials to the foundation, including books from its award-winning Baby Raven Reads series.
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world, and it is unique to Northwest Coast cultures. Chilkat weavings are distinct from other weaving forms in that curvilinear shapes such as ovoids and circles are woven into the pieces. The curved shapes are difficult and very time-consuming to execute, and a single Chilkat robe can take a skilled weaver a year or longer to complete. Traditionally, mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark were used, and the process of harvesting the goat and bark and processing the materials were also complex and laborious tasks.
In recent years, Chilkat weaving was considered to be an endangered art practice. A few Native artists mastered the craft and are now teaching it to others, giving hope this ancient practice will survive.