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Alaska Native Artist - Accentuating Tlingit Traditions
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Oh Gawd, Another Artist Statement!

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 7:47pm

Whenever I can, wherever I sleep, I place the foot of the bed at the window, so i awaken to nature and the first crack of dawn — view of Teslin Lake — July 2014

For at least 50 years, when awakened by the first light of dawn, my mind filters itself slowly back to this reality catching up to a body which is already shaking its legs with enthusiasm to start another day of creating, though dare not because my spirit is still in that “delicate time” where visions reveal themselves more clearly as I lay quietly, things that are “waiting in the eaves” yet to be created. Those close to me have come to understand it is best to leave me alone first thing in the morning; disturbing this fragile state of spirit will disturb the visions of new weavings, new button robes, and new paintings yet to come; it is also a time of communing with those that have long passed, those that I know presently, such as students who need more assistance and guidance, or follow-up with someone coordinating a class; including those that I will come to know who will place a commission or are inquiring about a lecture. The things that return with me upon awakening have been manifesting themselves in this reality since birth. Yes, I keep a pen and small notepad on my bedside table.

Rainbow Glacier at the mouth of the Chilkat River – Haines, Alaska – July 2014

Creating every day on 6 hours of sleep per night is normal; to no avail, my parents tried their best to conform me to be otherwise like everyone else. Alas, I too quit efforts on being normal when I reached 40; I figured if I wasn’t normal by then, it just wasn’t going to happen. Mom could not keep up with me; frustrated, she constantly called me a “mastermind” – I understood the term at 40. I create from the time I wake up to the time I collapse in bed 18 hours later; I cannot help myself. My normal is defined as having many things going on at once (i.e. three weavings on three different looms, drafting up a new Chilkat robe design, a buttonrobe at the sewing table, paintings half complete, preps for new collages, response to an RFP, coordinating Chilkat gatherings and retreats, conjuring up proposals for collaborations with other artists, terracing the driveway, rehearsing with the band, planting a tree nursery, sewing Easter clothing for all the grand-children, etc.). The projects “feed” one another, in turn they feed my spirit, I soar. When I soar, everyone around me soars.

Totemic images in cement, at Svenson’s home in Wrightwood, CA – December 2014

Being a Creator is nothing new; look around at how the Great Creator is in constant state of flux and chaos. Artists are no different; we are a chip off the “old block.” Daily there is a part of us that is created anew in the image of our ever-fluxing Creator.

Within is a drive where there is no choice but create; if I did not create, little by little I would literally die – ask me how I know. First my spirit would dwindle, then my emotions depressed, subside, and eventually stagnate. Lastly, my body would shrink, the fire light in my eyes would extinguish, and my breath expire. While in the midst of this decline, we could call this the “walking dead.” Though as if the drive within would allow this to happen; no way. I am vision. I am one of millions of visionary vessels from which creation flows, and gratefully we are grounded within the guidance of our ancestral traditions.

Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving class, under the “sun” in the Elder’s Room of the Kwaanlin Dun Cultural Center, Whitehorse, Yukon – June 2014

Chilkat weaving offers a meditative, spiritual practice similar to repetitive movements in Tai Chi.   Chilkat weaving allows me to bring order in creative chaos as if the supple, compact twine of the yarns gliding through my fingertips were the spinning of a spider’s web patterning new paths within the web of the brain, ever expanding to new horizons, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being, which in turn brings internal strength to the weaver, which naturally and gradually affects every relationship she has with others and self in good ways. Ask me how I know. This process is one of the main reasons why I teach weaving to our women. For nearly 30 years, periodically, I have left my family and the comforts of home to instigate the teaching, gathering of and support of our generations of weavers; I desire healthy, women of internal, feminine strength to  converge with the realms beyond our seeing eye; in goodness, we help bring the past into the present, and present into future. When our women are healthy and strong within, our world is at peace.

A circle of clan leaders, carved and painted totems just outside the Cape Fox Hotel in Ketchikan, AK – November 201


One Chilkat robe is a year in the making. Most of us no longer have the patience to spend that long on something. We live in an instant-gratification world; we are no longer conditioned to sit quietly for 2000 hours as we contemplate our lives, let alone our livelihood.   Before Chilkat came to me, I had very little patience. I would not create anything unless I knew I could do it in a day. After learning Chilkat, I gained the art of patience, the way of gratitude, and the act of compassion. The universe opened its doors with a flood of information; the kind of information not definable, yet powerfully written in our Native art, in the ways of our people, and in our commune with nature.   Our way of life is an wholistic approach to creating art.


The many braids in weaving the “Resilience” Chilkat robe by Clarissa Rizal – April 2014

Categories: Arts & Culture

“Chilkat Child” 5-Piece Tlingit Dance Ensemble

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 9:09am

Amelie dances “Chilkat Child” 5-piece Tlingit woven ensemble woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2015 – all photographs by Jeff Laydon of Pagosa Photography

In the Summer of 2012, I had a couple of weaving apprentices come live with me for a month.  All three of us started child-size Chilkat robes (with the intention that the child robe could also be worn by an adult as a dance apron).  Over the past 2.5 years with all the other projects, a couple of commissions, travel for weaving classes and gatherings, family, etc., I finally completed this ensemble.  I chart my time; it took a total of 5 months to weave this ensemble.  The only way to make myself get a job done is to give myself a deadline, usually the deadline is an art show, a dance performance, etc.  This time the deadline to complete the entire ensemble was by the Heard Museum Indian Art Fair and Market the weekend of March 6th this year.

Back side of Chilkat Child dance robe – Size 3T – woven by Clarissa Rizal 2015

I used four shades of blues, three were hand-dyed by myself, the variegated blue was dyed by a company in Sitka, Alaska.  I used one shade of blue just for the braids.   To distinguish the braids from the weavers, it was Jennie’s trick-of-the-trade to use two different shade of blues, one for the weaving, one for the braids!  Also, I included curlique shapes in the design form; they represent seaweed, yet also I just wanted to see if I could actually weave the tight curls; they are not necessarily easy to weave, so believe me (which I rarely use that phrase), weaving the curliques in the leggings and the apron were a challenge!

Close-up of Chilkat dance apron and Chilkat/Ravenstail dance leggings – Size 3T (fot small child) – woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2015

I also used three different shades of golden yellow and two shades each of the white/off-white and black.  The fringe on the apron, headdress and leggings were trimmed with .22 bullet shells, and all the pieces are trimmed with sea otter fur.  Except for the robe, all the pieces were lined with leather with twisted fringe.

“Chilkat Child” torso (hat and upper front part of Chilkat robe – woven by Clarissa Rizal – 2015

Thank you to my 5-year-old grand-daughter, Amelie Soleil Haas for being such a natural-born model.  She was easy to work with, took instruction well, and made my little “Chilkat Child” look better than ever!

Grand-daughter Amelie models “Chilkat Child”, with the weaver of the ensemble, her Grandma “Rissy” Clarissa Rizal – March 2015

Folks wonder how I get so much done:  Most people who see me out there in the world being friendly and cordial and seemingly always traveling, wonder how I have time to work…well, there’s an explanation for that:  when I hole up inside my studio for about 7 months out of the year, I do nothing else but work, work, work–produce, produce, produce.  I have a zilch social life; I don’t watch TV except Netflix movies while I am preparing bark, splitting wool, spinning or grooming warp, and I don’t entertain because I don’t have facilities or room to entertain.  I tend to be goal-oriented.  I like setting goals and achieving them.  And as any of you who know me well, I have always had many, many goals to achieve, all at once; there are things to take care of, things to design and make, places to go, people to connect with and bills to be paid!  My motto:  “Getterdun!”

However, once I am “out of my rabbit hole” and in the world, I am truly out there, but nevertheless doing work, just a different kind of work.  It’s my “social work” which generally involves helping with the grandchildren, spending time with friends, networking, traveling to do shows, or teach classes or apprentices, buying supplies and equipment.  This life is the way I make a living.  It’s been this way for 39 years, it’s too late to get out of it now!



Categories: Arts & Culture

Fastest Ball Winder in the World: By Boye

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 2:06pm

Grand-daughter Amelie helps wind smaller 2oz balls of weft yarns on the Boye electric ball winder

For nearly nearly 30 years I wound all my balls of weft yarns by hand; do you know how many hours and hours and hours that was for 10 major woven robes and woven ensembles and weaving classes/apprentices?  Do you know how many hours I could have used for weaving instead!?!?!

The electric Boye ball winder surrounded by balls of Chilkat warp and weft yarns

Well….luckily my dear friend and fellow weaver, Catrina, allowed me to borrow her electric ball winder when my hand-winder broke.  An electric ball winder; I never heard of it until I fetched it from Catrina and voile’ what a blessing——–  OH, THAT WAS THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO THAT HAND-BALL WINDER —— I JUST WISHED IT BROKE 30 years ago!!!!!

Close-up of the electric Boye ball winder

The Boye electric ball winder retails at $120, HOWEVER, you may buy a new one for $60 via eBay or at JoAnn’s with a 50% off coupon!  GO GET ONE NOW!  Spare yourself the trouble of hand-winding; you’ve got better things to do with your time like weaving, weaving, weaving!!!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Trick-of-Trade to Adding Sea Otter Fur Trim

Sat, 03/21/2015 - 1:46pm

1/4″ strip of sea otter fur being looped through the top edge of a Chilkat robe

Sea otter fur is THE, or close to THE most warmest fur in the world with over 100,000 individual hairs per square inch!  Yes, there are tricks-to-the-trade of working with sea otter fur.

TO CREATE A FULLER-LOOKING BAND OF SEA OTTER FUR TRIM (follow these instructions):  After you have cut your 1/4″ strip to loop through your heading cord of your Chilkat or Ravenstail weaving, place your weaving on its front, with the WRONG SIDE FACING YOU!  Depending on the size of your warp, loop through every 2 to 3 warp ends, using an overhand stitch, from FRONT TO BACK.

With your large-eye tapestry needle, carefully, gently, work the fur out of the looped eye of the warp to distribute the fur evenly and cover up any signs of warp or heading cord.

Good luck following directions!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Bob Sam: The Making of a Repatriate

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 11:20am

Bob Sam models “Emergence” button robe designed and sewn by Clarissa Rizal in 1989 – Permanent Collection of SEARHC (Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium), Sitka, Alaska – Photo by Rizal & Pizzarelli

Five years ago, I took a  class on the American Indian Repatriation Movement at the Institute of American Indian Arts.  For our finals, students were asked to choose a person (either already passed on or still living) illustrating their background and how they came to be involved in repatriating Native American artifacts and/or remains.  I chose our own Tlingit, Bob Sam born and raised in Sitka, Alaska whose heritage is also from Angoon.

I initially met and worked with Bob, as actor/actress  back in 1991-93 with our Tlingit Juneau-based NaaKahidi Theatre.  During a West-coast tour, he came to tell me his story.  I share his story which was also my final paper in my class:

You could say he was born an alcoholic; he started drinking at age 5. In the cupboards, other than dry and canned goods, bottles of hard liquor and cheap beer kept company. Bob had joined the ranks of several Native men and women; he secured the position of town drunk way before he was 20.   Blurred memories of pain, sorrow and sometimes joy wove the fabric of drunken binges lasting for days; let’s do what we can to forget and bury the past. However, one day an event unearthed a deep past, so powerful that in that one moment, it had erased his occupation of town drunk, an event that he and everyone else close to him will never forget.

Early morning as he staggered home from a weekend drunken binge, he saw a construction crew beginning to break ground for the new condominiums on the hillside above the harbor. Suddenly, he thought he was hallucinating, horrified at the skeletons being unearthed and tossed around like puppets without strings, he cried out to the backhoe operators to quit digging. The operators, who could not hear Bob and did not notice the skeletons, waved Bob away, “Go home, drunkard. We don’t care what you’re saying!”  The town drunk would not be believed.

Bob hurried home, banged down the door and exclaimed “They are digging up skeletons over there; we gotta stop them!” His family members didn’t believe him. They figured he was having a drunken nightmare. He tried to convince them yet to no avail.   He drank lots of coffee and explained what he saw; still his family could not be convinced. Then he took a hot/cold shower, shaved, gave himself a haircut and donned himself with clean, respectable clothing. When he came out of the bathroom, clean as a whistle, his family members were shocked. They had never seen Bob in this new light.

Bob and his family stopped the construction of the condominiums. The Southeast Alaskan rain forest jungle has a way of “burying the dead” with fast overgrowth rotting natural structures in a matter of a few years. Bob, his family and the Native community convinced City Hall to rebury the skeletal remains of a Tlingit Indian cemetery long forgotten buried by the rain forest.

In that moment he witnessed unearthing skeletal remains, Bob quit the drink cold turkey; he buried his 25-year occupation and, now after looking back to that time since, he knows what he was destined to be and do for the rest of his life: a repatriate – unearthing and bringing to light the shame, blame, sorrow, neglect – then putting to rest the many rightful needs of such and then some.

Tlingit storyteller Bob Sam is a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and after wintering in Japan with his fiancé’, has recently returned to Sitka. He received several awards for his commitment in the unusual and astounding work in the protection and repatriation of human remains. He was a finalist for the 2002 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership award, received Alaska’s 2006 Governor’s Award in the Humanities, has been honored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute and is well-loved in Japan.

A major part of Bob’s work is the refurbishing of forgotten cemeteries.   Sometimes he gets paid for his labor; most of the time it’s a labor of love. “There’s something nice about going places where your ancestors used to be,” he said. “Most people are afraid of these kinds of places. I lost my fear a long time ago.”

In 2010, he participated in a ceremony honoring Chief Kowee, his mother’s grandfather, who had been of service to the founders of Juneau, Alaska. While at the gravesite, he saw Kowee’s burial ground in dire need of his attention. Littered with trash, gravestones covered in moss, tipped over and sunken into the ground, he worked to level the graves with the recruitment of the Native student group at the University of Alaska Southeast. He said that although it has been a pattern for the abuse and neglect of gravesites, Bob has been working to make changes beginning with the education of the younger generations. He said, “If we make this place look nice, the kids will respect it…we can already see it; kids are more apt to pick up after themselves in an area that’s well-maintained…”

Bob provides his time to local, regional, national and international forums regarding sacred sites, traditional Tlngit culture and the respectful return of human remains. He assisted a Sitka clan in attaining human remains held at the National Park Service. He continues to be a consultant and active coordinator to assist many other tribes throughout Alaska, across America as well as indigenous peoples in other countries including the Saami in Scandinavia, the Ainu in Japan and the Siberians. Bob estimates that over the last 28 years since 1984, he has restored more than 100,000 graves and repatriated more than 800 bodies.

For several years as the Sitka Tribe’s of Alaska’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Coordinator, Bob assisted tribal families and the State of Alaska Department of Transportation. During this time, he repatriated the remains of 133 individuals who had passed away from tuberculosis at the Mt. Edgecumbe Indian Health Services hospital in Sitka during the 1940s and 1950s. In 2002, these remains were discovered in an old bunker built during World War II that had been forgotten over the years completely camouflaged by the rainforest overgrowth.

The individuals were from all parts of Alaska because there was no other hospital in the entire state that could accommodate the contagious medical issue. As soon as they were diagnosed with the tuberculosis, they were immediately evacuated from their remote villages without the consent or sometimes even the family’s knowledge of where their loved ones had been taken. Each of the 133 individual’s had died far from their homeland without even a message of their passing to their relatives. Nearly 60 years later, Bob Sam was hired to research the names of the skeletal remains of the individuals because there was only a number attached to each slab casket. Once he obtained the names, he researched their village and made contact with their relatives.

Of all the stories Bob has ever told, the following is the most powerful.

Myrna had four children by the time she was 20; the time when her husband who was only two years older, had contracted tuberculosis. He was sent away by small plane from Mountain Village on the Yukon River in central Alaska to the Mt. Edgecumbe Indian Health Center in Sitka, the region called Southeast Alaska; over a thousand miles they were apart. 60 years ago, most Native folk did not know nor even hear of the place called Sitka. Myrna was one of those folk; she never knew what became of her husband, she never saw him again. Nevertheless, she never re-married, she raised her children, had grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren; all the while she waited for her husband’s return.

Bob’s job was to contact each of the individual’s relatives. He explained to them who he was, what he was doing, what had happened years ago and told them that he had the remains of their ancestor. He told each family that the State of Alaska was returning the bodies to their villages and that he would be making arrangements for their return. When Bob contacted Myrna and her family, she requested that Bob return with the remains of her husband. She didn’t want her husband to travel alone and they all wanted to meet her husband’s escort.

A big potlatch was given for the return of the husband, father, uncle, grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather. The entire village celebrated with the best of indigenous foods and their Native dance; each dancer was adorned in their finest regalia. Gifts were given as the largest gift had been returned home. Bob was invited to give a speech of the events that happened to their relative and his return. He explained to them about the meaning of repatriation and that this kind of thing has happened all over the world – about a topic unknown to the villagers of this remote place on the Yukon River. The celebration lasted 24 hours.

The return of Myrna’s husband was just the beginning. The next morning, Myrna’s family discovered she had died peacefully in her sleep. She was 84 years old. Her life-long wait for her love was not in vain.

When asked if he has ever considered a different profession, Bob grinned and quietly replied, “…over my dead body.”

Categories: Arts & Culture

Epson 7880 Printer & Shrinkwrap System For Sale $3280

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 12:15pm

I am selling my Epson Pro Stylus 7880 24″-wide Format Inkjet Printer that I have had for nearly 6 years and have barely used, not even 50 hours of use.  As part of the printer package, included is my  Shrinkwrap System.  I am whittling down my artistic activities and will eliminate the production and sale of Giclee Prints.  I am focusing my efforts on my Chilkat/Ravenstail weavings, button blankets, original paintings, and am returning to carving.

This excellent printer features:  24″ wide print carriage, roll or cut sheet paper, prints on thick media up to 1.5mm (silk, photo paper, watercolor paper, canvas, etc.), 8-channel MicroPiezo AMC print head, and UltraChrome K3 ink guaranteed 80 years from any fading.

Most refurbished printers run anywhere from $1800 to $2300, just for the printer.    I am asking $3280 for the entire printing package, which includes the printer ($2300), a 40′ roll of canvas ($300), rolls of other miscellaneous papers (no charge), set of inks ($400), maintenance tank ($50), Shrinkwrap system ($300), 16 sheets of 24×30″ black foam core ($80) and roll of Shrinkwrap ($150)

If you’d like to know more about these fabulous printers, you may check out a website at:

Categories: Arts & Culture

Two Graphic Display Systems For Sale

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 12:51pm

ATTENTION ARTISTS WHO SELL THEIR WORKS AT ART MARKETS & FAIRS!!! Do you need wall panels to display your paintings, graphics, prints, etc.? I have two complete display units for sale made by Graphic Display Systems, the original manufacturer of affordable wire mesh display panels, for Artists, Craftsman, Schools, etc., to display their work in a professional manner. The display unit is the most light weight, most durable, most used and easy to assemble display panel on the market. The system breaks down into three flat boxes that fit easily in the back of your station wagon, 4wd, or today’s BMW! My panel system are in excellent condition.  I have one in Colorado which I have used only 4 in times in six years and I have one in Alaska of which  I’ve only used this unit 2 times in the past 4 years, and because I am changing my business plan this year, it’s time to let them go!

The system in Pagosa Springs, Colorado is the basic panel system with additional panels to add 18″ more height.  Included are additional bars and clips.  This system is valued at $1600; I ask $1000.

The system that I have in Juneau, Alaska is the basic panel system shown on the website to fit a 10ft. x 10ft. booth. This system’s wall is 10 ft. wide and 5 ft deep with one horizontal bar at the top. Initial cost was $1000; I ask $800.

For more info on these fabulous systems, check out the company who manufactures these at: And yes, my area code is 970 (colorado)…!


Categories: Arts & Culture

Using Leftover Chilkat/Ravenstail Weft Yarns

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 11:09am

The Hope grandchildren, Bette, Louis, Mary and Eleanor  model hats made by  Grandma Rissy!

After 20+ years of weaving Chilkat and Ravenstail robes, I have accumulated left over weft yarns in shades of whites, blues, yellows and blacks, not quite enough for any significant weavings, so I decided to put these yarns to use.

Grand-daughters Violet, Simone and Amelile–Chilkat hats made by Clarissa Rizal – Winter 2014-15

Nearly 40  years ago, instigated by the need for beautiful, ear-flap hats to keep the wind, rain/snow and cold out  for my own children,  I became a hat maker and there are a few folks out there who still have their winter hats that I made.  Those hats back then have my design trademark at the top of the hats:  the star or starfish, as shown in these photos.  Now that I have grandkids, I am back to making these hats…happily, I have come full circle…!

Grandma Rissy has nicknames for all her grand-children: SikiKwaan, Ajuju, Wasichu, and Inipi — Chilkat hats by Clarissa Rizal – Winter 2014-15


Categories: Arts & Culture


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