Northwest Coast Arts

By Kenedy Williams, Staff Writer

The UAS Northwest Coast Arts program will continue into 2023, thanks to a grant from the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

“If you really want to get a great understanding of Northwest Coast Arts you have to come to UAS,” said Davina Cole, Northwest Coast Arts Program Coordinator.

The three-year, $900,000 grant will allow the program to continue teaching local Indigenous traditional art, including carving, weaving, formline design, and textiles. Sealaska Heritage secured the federal funds to allow the arts program to further develop and grow, hire new faculty, fund scholarships, and purchase materials, Cole said.

UAS has partnered with SHI and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) since 2016 to teach Northwest Coast art. This is the second grant from Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate the cultures of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people.

UAS Northwest Coast Arts program offers a minor and an associates degree. The associates degree prepares a student to be a scholar and professional artist, and has an emphasis on weaving, carving, and basketry.

Instructors are respected Alaska Native elders, master carvers, and other artists, including Raventail weaver Kay Parker, who studied under internationally known weaver

Cheryl Samuel. She is credited with the revival of Ravenstail weaving after it had not been practiced for about 200 years.

UAS Woolen Weaving classes are focused on Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving techniques. Students have the opportunity to create ceremonial regalia using merino wool. I was able to take Parker’s Beginning Northwest Coast Woolen Weaving course over summer 2021. I learned how to calculate needed supplies, how to start a project, many weaving techniques, and how to end the project. Parker taught beginning students several twinning techniques, different styles of rows, and we used these techniques to create different patterns of cultural significance.

The course was an enriching opportunity to learn about the culture of the Indigenous peoples whose lands I live on. This hands-on opportunity to learn from a weaver who has been practicing for three decades gave me knowledge I will retain for many years to come.

“Being able to see the excitement and pride that students have in their work is my favorite part,” said Cole, who has coordinated the Northwest Coast Arts program since 2018.

“Being on the Northwest coast we have a unique art style that can’t be found anywhere else in the world and the fact that you can focus on this particular artform here makes UAS unique,” she said.

With the second grant, Cole has several student-oriented goals, including identifying pathways to jobs in in the arts, helping students continue in the university after finishing their associates degree, and ensure that high school students can participate in the UAS program.

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