While I have been working on taking photographs of all the artwork that will be going into a show this coming fall, I have been surprised by the sheer volume of work that my mother and her family of artist’s have at their fingertips. This piece, an Unangan drum, made by my mother for my daughter, shows Gert’s brilliant workmanship; each component of this musical instrument is a work of art in and of itself. The drum consists of a piece of bent wood to form the drum head. The drum handle, ingeniously attached, was crafted from wood and ivory. The drum, itself, is a piece of worked goat hide, placed on the drumhead in such a way that the skin can be adjusted to accomodate humidity, thus keeping the tone that you want. The drum stick was made from a searched out piece of driftwood, covered by a piece of soft leather. The paint for the drum is red ochre, made by grinding the stone and mixing it with a medium. Brachiopods, collected from our beaches, decorate the handle and add their own sound. The design on the skin is a traditional Unangan design. The smudges on the skin were made by my daughter as this is a drum that is used for singing in Unangam tunuu and dancing our history.
Unangan weaving has the reputation of being some of the finest weaving being done today; for millenia, for that matter. It can take a weaver many months to complete a project. It also has the reputation of being some of the most beautiful weaving, exacting in the details of process and design. So much goes into weaving each project that it should come as no surprise at how time consuming even the first steps can be.
If you have ever been to the Aleutians during the summer, one of the first comments you are likely to make will be something about the abundant, large grass growing on the beach shores and up into the meadowlands. You are looking at tix^lux^, or wild rye grass, or in the scientific lingo, Elymus mollis. It is this beautiful grass that played such a large part in the lives of the Unangax^.
Weaving used to be a very utilitarian aspect of Unangan life. Grasses were used to weave fish baskets, berry baskets, clam containers, floor mats, wall coverings, room dividers, mittens, socks, burial mats, capes….you name it and it was probably a woven product. The beauty of the fine weaving, though, was not recognized until the Unangax^ were invaded by Russian fur procurers and items began leaving the region, either as items taken forcibly, or, in later years, as items of trade.
I am lucky that my mother has passed on the art of gathering and curing grass for basket weaving. It is no longer a common occurrence. I miss seeing women returning from the hills carrying large bundles of grass over their shoulders. Those bundles were tossed and dampened and protected from sunlight for up to 2 months, depending on conditions. Then the grass was stripped down to the inner blades of grass; the ones that were at the center of the blade, thus protected from the salty elements. One large bundle is reduced to a bundle measuring, perhaps, an inch in diameter.
Just so you know, both my daughters have been on the August grass gathering forays.
This is the corner. It is a shake my head corner. It is the throw the project into corner. Center stage, we have the science fair project about hydraulics. And off to the right we have a glimpse of the Dead Mau5 head project. We have a grandson’s tossed hoodie, a husbands books and paperwork laying on the top of the couch and the arm of the chair. We have unfolded afghans, tossed carelessly about. The Dead Mau5 project has claimed my living room waste basket. Everytime I go to toss something in it, I have to abort the action and go to the kitchen garbage container. We have a nerf gun and a cardboard tube, because you never know when you are going to need one. And we have to keep every pen and pencil that comes in the house because they certainly come in handy….especially when the ink has dried up. Someone has conveniently tied one of my curtain sheers in a knot; it obviously was in the way. Is it any wonder that I wasn’t aware that my Christmas cactus has bloomed for the second time this year? Shaking my head. What does your “corner” look like? Post me some pictures so I can feel good.
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