Master weaver Clarissa Rizal holds up one end of the "Weavers Across the Water" Chilkat and Ravenstail blanket. Forty Ravenstail and Chilkat weavers contributed a square measuring around five inches by five inches. Rizal wove the border around the robe, a pattern called "Mating Loons," and is working them all into a robe that will get its first use during the dedication ceremony for Xunaa Shuka Hit, the Glacier Bay tribal house.
From left, weavers Marsha Hotch, Clarissa Rizal, and Irene Lampe watch as canoers proceed, with one of the dugout canoes, up the beach. Rizal is holding the Weavers Across the Waters robe whose creation she spearheaded. Forty-four weavers from up and down the Northwest Coast contributed to the robe, including each of these three women.
Clarissa Rizal works on the "Weavers Across the Water" robe at the Walter Soboleff Building in August 2016. In the background is a portrait of her daughter, Lily Hope, painted by Juneau artist Arnie Weimer.
Story last updated at 12/13/2016 - 5:59 pm
Renowned Chilkat and Ravenstail weaver Clarissa Rizal, a Raven of the T’akdeintaan, died Dec. 7 after a battle with cancer.
Rizal apprenticed with Jennie Thlunaut, a weaver from Klukwan. She began her apprenticeship when Thlunaut was 95 years old. After Thlunaut’s death, Rizal was so grieved she was unable to weave; she began again when she was asked to teach Thlunaut’s granddaughters.
“Not so long ago, we were in danger of losing the knowledge on how to make our sacred Chilkat weavings,” said a Sealaska Heritage Institute Facebook post about Rizal’s death. “We as Native people owe a debt of gratitude to Clarissa for mastering our sacred art traditions and for teaching others to weave.”
Rizal this year won a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; it’s an award Thlunaut also won. She traveled to Washington in September to receive it.
Rizal also this year spearheaded the “Weavers Across the Water” robe. By the time of its completion, 44 Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers sent squares Rizal wove into a robe with a “mating loons” border; six other weavers helped in other ways. The robe was no small undertaking; she estimated she spent more than 300 hours just weaving her portions of the robe, and she and fellow weavers were working on it even the day it was completed.
She presented the robe to master carver Wayne Price at the dedication of Xunaa Shuká Hít, the Huna tribal house in Glacier Bay, in August. Price danced in the robe for the first time. It is to be used for the maiden voyages of canoes around the Northwest Coast.
When Rizal traveled to Washington for the NEA award, she placed the robe on President Barack Obama’s shoulders.
Rizal also won numerous other awards in her life, and worked to pass on her knowledge. She wrote “Jennie Weaves an Apprentice — A Chilkat Weaver’s Handbook.” In 2008, the book received a HAIL (Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature) award.
The National Endowment for the Arts sent out a statement after her death, quoting her from an interview earlier in the year as saying Chilkat weaving is “not just weaving an art form. You’re weaving an entire culture. You’re weaving an entire family clan. You’re weaving energies that pass between the worlds. You’re in connection with all the past weavers.”
Rizal’s daughters, Lily Hope and Ursala Hudson, are weavers.
Her death comes less than a week after the Dec. 2 death of renowned Ravenstail weaver Teri Rofkar. It’s that day, according to a Caringbridge post from Rizal’s daughter Ursala Hudson, that Rizal took a turn for the worse.
Rizal was a deeply spiritual person. When the Capital City Weekly interviewed Rizal in August, she spoke of the way Chilkat weaving impacted her.
She said she has worked in many mediums, but “never experienced an art form that has such a strong spirit to it … it chose me. I didn’t choose it … and when I chose it (back), my life seemed to fall into place.”
• Contact Capital City Weekly editor Mary Catharine Martin at email@example.com.