By Heather Ramsay-An Old Massett-born woman has been given the highest honour the United States of America bestows on folk and traditional artists, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship.
Delores Churchill, a traditional weaver who lives in Alaska, was one of 11 artists to receive the honor at a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Sept. 14.
Her daughters April Davis and Evelyn Vanderhoop, along with her granddaughters, attended the events as well.
The ceremony was followed by a gala concert the next evening in which recipients such as The Treme Brass Band from New Orleans, Diomedes Matos, a Puerto Rican guitar maker and Esther Martinez, a Native American storyteller, performed.
Ms Churchill was sung onto stage by her granddaughters and interviewed by the emcee while slides of her work appeared on a screen. Ms Davis recounted part of the interview. She said her mother explained why she left her earlier career in hospital work by saying, “I went insane for a while and then I decided to become an artist. . .”
Ms Churchill passed on her knowledge to her four daughters who, in turn, have taught traditional weaving to their children as well as other students.
Now 76 years old, Ms Churchill was born a Masset Inlet Eagle. Her father was Alfred Adams from the Masset Raven clan and her brother was a village chief of Masset, Chief Gaalaa, Oliver Adams.
She moved to Ketchikan when she was 16 and after a career in hospital work, she began to learn weaving from her mother Selina Peratrovich.
Ms Davis, also a renowned weaver, said the award is like a Pulitzer Prize for traditional arts. She said even with the fancy dinner and the meeting of dignitaries, the best part came late in the evening when all the recipients got together and jammed in their traditional styles. Haida songs mixed with blues, tango and some traditional Hawaiian music.
“We couldn’t leave each other at night,” she said.
Participating in these events with her mother allowed Ms Davis to revel in the power of the arts to draw people of all different backgrounds together.
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