If, by chance, you are in Anchorage anytime between now and January 20, 2019, take some time to visit the Anchorage Museum at the Rasmuson Center to view this exquisite exhibition.
If you are there on October 11th, we will all be there, too. Stop by to meet the one and only Gert Svarny and her family of artists. Special reception, open to the public, begins at 6:30 pm and ends at 8:00 pm. Hope to see some of you there. You won’t regret it!
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.
Just a quick note about basket weaving grass. A longer post will be in the subsistence pages shortly. Mom, Diane, and I are in the process of splitting the grass we picked in July. We are looking for the inner blades to use in weaving Unangan baskets. It is a long process from the picking to the splitting; and the splitting is pretty slimy and dirty!! Just one more thing to do to keep us honest and out of trouble!!