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