Evelyn Vanderhoop daughter of Delores Churchill, Grand daughter of Selina Peratrovich, is a member of a weaving family. From early childhood, she has been brought to the forest and beaches to harvest weaving materials; spruce roots and cedar bark. Weaving was a way of life for all Haida women when her Nonny Selina was born. The fast paced world changed around Selina, but she continued to weave. Through Selina's teaching, weaving is progressing into the present day and future cultural traditions by her family members and her apprentices. Her granddaughter, Evelyn Vanderhoop, weaves the Raven's Tail and Naaxiin (Chilkat), techniques that are used in creating the chief's robes of the Northwest Coast.
|Nonny Selina Peratrovich and Mother Delores Churchill|
The American Indian Art Magazine, 1995, the 20th anniversary issue, devoted that magazine to important Native artists that past on since their inception in 1975. Selina Peratrovich was selected as one of the thirty featured artist amongst nearly two hundred that were considered. The editorial stated:
"In selecting, we noticed that so many native artists--those included here and those not--were teachers, as though the notion of sharing their culture were, in fact, an important aspect of their heritage."
Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum wrote the following essay for Selina's tribute:
At the time of her death in December 1984 at the age of ninety-five, Selina Peratrovich was the most accomplished weaver and teacher of Haida basketry. Her baskets and hats of split spruce root and cedar bark were featured in exhibits and demonstrations at many museums, including the Alaska State Museum, Juneau,1971; The Heard Museum, Phoenix, 1975; and the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard, 1975. Perhaps her most enduring contribution, however, is in the area of teaching--through Peratrovich, the art of Haida basketry was passed to the current generation of weavers in the Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska.
Born in Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1890, and growing up in Howkan, on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska, Peratrovich learned to weave baskets when she was twenty-four years old from her mother-in-law. She learned by watching, "then I worked upstairs by myself, trying to do it and having to take it all out. It was so hard, sometimes I wept." Peratrovich became a teacher herself in order to keep basketry alive, "any place that people need us," she said, "we are willing to help."
Haida weaving is considered a precious heritage that is not lightly passed outside the family. But Peratrovich felt the art was in jeopardy, and boldly taught anyone who had the desire to learn, including her daughter, Delores Churchill---now a noted weaver and teacher in her own right. Churchill has said, "She really made me work hard. I would come home and she would make me take it all undone again. She'd say, "If your going to be a weaver, because you learned from me, you'd better be good." To some students, the simple lessons--thanking the trees for giving it's roots or bark--are the most memorable.
The National Endowments for the Arts web page offers the following information on Delores Churchill, recipient of a NEA, 2007 Master Artist Award:
Delores Churchill: Haida traditional weaver, Ketchikan, Alaska
|Delores E. Churchill demonstrates Haida basketweaving during the 2006 NEA National Heritage Fellows concert. Photo by Tom Pich|
Churchill learned these skills from her mother, Selina Peratrovich, a nationally recognized master weaver. Peratrovich asked her daughter to burn her baskets for the first five years of the apprenticeship. "I am well known for my baskets," Peratrovich told her daughter. "If you say you learned from me, you better be good." Churchill's honors include a Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist Award, the Governor's Award for the Arts, and an Alaska State Legislative Award. She continues to teach young people the knowledge and skills related to the weaving tradition, observing: "As long as Native art remains in museums, it will be thought of in the past tense."
In this excerpt from an interview with the NEA, Churchill reminisced about how her children learned to weave and teaching others Tlingit weaving.
NEA: Did your children learn weaving in the traditional way?
DELORES CHURCHILL: Yes. In fact one time when [my daughter] April was visiting my mother, she said, "Grandmother, I would like to learn to weave," and Mother said, "No, no, my dear. You'll neglect your housework and your children if you start weaving so, no, you shouldn't do that." So April would just drop in and sit by Mother and watch her weave. Then one day she came in with a basket and put it in front of my mother who asked, "Who made that nice basket?" And April said, "I did, Grandmother." From then on, Mother started teaching her.
CHURCHILL: It takes years before one can do a basket like the ones I see in the museums. It's just like ballet. My daughter took ballet. She wasn't allowed to get into toe shoes for years. She had to learn all the steps and all the moves before she could get into toe shoes. Its the same thing with basketry. Before you can do an artistic piece there are years when you're just learning to prepare your materials. Preparing your material is actually the most important part of it. When the university asked me to teach an evening class because there were so many people wanting to learn to do basketry, my mother told me, "You're not ready." For the next two years all I did was material preparation.
|Delores Churchill and granddaughters on stage at NEA performance|
|Delores Churchill, Evelyn Vanderhoop, Aaron Burns, Holly Churchill and April Churchill, Photo by Hall Anderson|
Photo owned by the National Endowments of the Arts: Portrait of Delores Churchill