Luxurious Apparel in Alaska Native Furs

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“Taboo Kusax`an (love) Birds” Sea Otter Caplet

 

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2017 Cherokee Art Market “Innovation Award”

This caplet is made up of 40 individual pieces of sea otter, beaded deer leather and lace. This is the first time in the U.S. that sea otter has been colored and used in a garment. Because I harvest the sea otter myself, I can pick the best hides for natural color and any small or lesser quality hides for brilliant coloring. There are only 3 tanneries left in the U.S. that are registered with the federal government qualified to tan sea otters. Only Alaskan Native Indians can harvest sea otter for their meat and fur.

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The inspirational story for the “Lovebirds”:

For as far back as we can remember, Alaskan Native Tlingit Indians have descended from either Eagle or Raven clans. My grandmother Charmaine and her best friend Marianne were both from the Eagle Clan. When my grandmother was hundreds of miles away, Marianne taught me about making moccasins, smoking fish, and mixing up soap berry cream. She also loved telling funny stories about her and my grandmother growing up together. When they were young, they both had a crazy crush on a “Raven” clan hottie. They argued a lot about who was going to marry him. Finally my grandmother gave in and said you can have this Raven. Marianne and the Raven dated and her eyes twinkled with love. She decided to make a blanket for him to wear to show off their love. What better design then the Kusax’an (love) birds? That design has always depicted the love of an Eagle and Raven as they peer into each others eyes. When she was just about finished, she had found out he had cheated on her. She then decided to finish the Eagle and Raven with heads looking away in disgust. She gave the finished blanket to him and he wore it not knowing the design was a disgrace. Two weeks later the Raven came back and threw the blanket in her face. She laughed as hard then, as she did now telling me the silly story.

I wore that blanket in 1992 while riding my cousins horse in a Skagway Alaska parade. I was the only Alaskan Native in the parade and won $50 for most historic.

lovebird blanket parade

I am thankful to Marianne for sharing her knowledge and wonderful stories. While she is no longer here, she will continue to inspire me. I created this caplet “Taboo Kusax’an Birds” in her honor.

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“Alaskan Lady” Sea otter dress vest

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2017 Santa Fe Market “First Place Ribbon” in diversified arts.

2017 Santa Fe Market “Best of Show” in a fashion contest.

2017 Cherokee Art market “3rd Place Ribbon” in textiles.

It has taken me 2 years of hunting to find the three perfect hides to make this sea otter dress vest. The whole vest is made of six large pieces, which require flawless matching hides. Sea otters are very aggressive and mate all year round; which can damage their hides.

The otter population is booming in Alaska and we would subsistence hunt more, but the lack of good quality tanneries has limited our abilities to create our fashions. Sea otters can be “Native tanned”, but the fur is the densest in the world and cannot be thoroughly cleaned with just these practices alone. And sea otters are BIG, 100-pound animals that eat everything in the sea. Not an easy animal to tan!

Alaskan Lady collar front

The art of proper “Build Up” of fur apparel materials consists of lining, hem tape, muslin wool, horsehair cloth, collar wire tape, covered hooks eyes, and pocket material. It took five years to find a skilled amazing furrier willing to teach me the trade secrets of “build up”. Because of this secret, the art of fur sewing is quickly disappearing in the U.S.

Alaskan Lady inside

The “Alaskan Lady” collar is made up of 72 individual Alaskan fur pieces. I could have lined the collar underneath, but decided to use a leather paint to seal it and show the intricacies of fur sewing. I took it one-step farther and labeled the fur pieces with the correct fur name. Please take a look? I hunted the stellar sea lion and sea otters locally. The other furs are labeled as such; Kotzebue lynx, Prince of Whales beaver, and Pribilof fur seal.

Alaskan Lady collar

 

From Kotzebue to Ketchikan

Etsy Lynx and Sea Otter Blanket

It doesn’t faze some people to hop on a snow machine (snowmobile, for you lower 48’ers), drive 40 miles in -20 below zero to check a short trap line for the infamous abundant, Alaskan lynx. But that’s what it takes to offer you the best-looking fur first hand. Of course there is always the long snow blown drive back hoping your thumb doesn’t go numb from holding the throttle to long. And then the true work begins with skinning and fleshing of the animal’s thin skin. Drying time, tagging, packaging, shipping and then sending; trusting the tannery will do a good job.  That is a small part of how this unique blanket is created.

links to kotz2

The second part is the harvest on the big blue ocean for the largest weasel that can weigh up to 100 lbs. With no shortage in Alaska of the richest fur bearing animal, harvesting is a 2400 lbs. a day chore. Lifting the animal into the boat, out of the boat up to a skinning table, fleshing a heavy hide, and then washing. It all tallies up to…a lot of work!  And don’t forget the shipping of the heavy dry hides to one of the only 3 federally permitted tanneries left in the U.S.. Costs of tanning are like renting in Park Place with no choice of playing the Monopoly game.

So when you look at this soft, warm blanket, please remember the bone chilling frost on the face, numb fingers, and sore back that went into making this one of kind “thing”. Oh, and the great craftsmanship. lol

Thank you,

Christy

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New York meets Alaska Native

Its a long way to travel, but well worth it if you can afford the hotel. A coffee shop around every corner and combination smells of Falafel, fuel, and perfume waft through the sidewalks.  A far cry from the hometown smells of ocean, seaweed, and moss laden tall trees.

Some people are nice and some seem to stare right through you. But the trusty police man is always there to help you…especially if your lost.

The showing of beautiful Native works of art was in the National Museum of the American Indian first week in December. A small hand picked collection of some of the best American Indian artist in the U.S..

Each with there own style and purpose in life.  Artists want to save the traditional values in culture but yet perpetuate new growth to meet the trendy demand.  Each piece of art displayed took hours of concentration, talent and was available for purchase to the public. I might also add, at less the cost it would be in a gallery and straight from the artist that created it.  I have noticed their are getting to be fewer and far between places that offer such an opportunity.  Even more detrimental is the audience that doesn’t understands that such work is unique and can’t be bought at Walmart.

Locals and visitors flocked the tables at a chance to purchase the first unique pieces on Preview night. A few glass wine goblets smash the floor later in the night. Cash flows smoothly, but some artist found it hard to run a transaction through their card readers and have to manually write their slips. This can lead to issues of trust and if the card is true. I didn’t have problems with my card reader. I have an Alaska 2nd party credit card service who deals with these issues first hand and ensured me with the small band width program they use, I should not have any issues. Yeah! Alaska USA. I did have two cards decline, but the issues were worked out.  The main reason for transaction issues is the 113 year old beautiful, Beaux-Arts style, solid cement building cuts your bars down to two. Beauty can’t be helped. One must talk to those credit card programmers…if your “Square”, sorry, good luck.

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Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at Bowling Green

Sunny warm days don’t help to sell fur apparel. But we all know it will get cold…sometime?? Two weeks later, it just got warmer…lol. It remains a toss up whether or not to return. But all in all, it was a great experience and you just can’t put a price on that.

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