A Haida weaver has won three titles at the Sealaska Heritage Institute 10th Biennial Northwest Coast Juried Art Show and Competition.
Stlaaygee X_ay Guul Kun K_ayangas Marlene Liddle, who is based in Old Massett, took home a total of US$1,700 for her wins in the endangered art division, for her small spruce root basket, as well as the weaving and basketry division and category, respectively, for her imitation abalone hat.
Liddle told the Observer that while she had previously attended the four-day dance-and-culture celebration that accompanies the event showcasing Northwest Coast native art as a vendor, this was the first time she had entered the juried art show and competition itself.
The celebration as well as the art show and competition are normally held in Juneau, hosted by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, however, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the institute decided to host the show online this year for the first time ever. The broadcast of the virtual celebration began on June 10.
Liddle said the show and competition also marked another first for her — the first spruce root basket she made since learning how to weave in 2007.
After she moved back home to Haida Gwaii in 2000, she started harvesting cedar for elders.
“I just loved being outdoors and the fun we’d have as a group,” she remembers.
Then in 2007 her mentor Christine Carty offered to teach her how to weave.
She remembers starting to weave a hat out of yellow cedar and because she was often out of town, it took her almost a year to complete it.
“My aunties were telling me they were going to have a birthday party for the hat,” she said, adding that the joke lit a fire inside of her.
Since then she has made more than 230 pieces while also working full-time at the Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCO), mostly hats made of red and yellow cedar that she helps gather herself, including traditional styles as well as contemporary ones such as cowboy hats and fedoras.
Last summer Liddle started gathering spruce root with direction from her aunty Merle Anderson, around rivers where there is erosion happening and on beaches where there are spruce trees around.
Then over the winter she prepared some of the roots and made the winning basket, which is only about 3.5 inches tall.
Liddle said she wanted to challenge herself right from the get-go to weave a small, intricate basket.
A juror comment on the Sealaska website said that for a first basket, Liddle made “an outstanding effort.”
“Roots split evenly, and irregularities in the shape of the basket are kept to a minimum,” the juror commented. “Really nice work. I look forward to seeing more from a very well-taught student.”
While the spruce root basket is not for sale, since it was the first one Liddle made and she wants to keep it in her family, the winning imitation abalone hat is available for purchase.
Liddle said she uses a secret, five-stage process to prepare to weave her imitation abalone hats, and also keeps her source for the imitation abalone product under wraps.
A juror comment on the Sealaska website described the hat as “beautifully woven with the stunning addition of the abalone strips.”
“The use of abalone to embellish basketry hats is not new, but having it covering the entire surface of the hat is quite modern,” the juror said.
“I like the two lines of plain twining, breaking up the abalone into three sections. Even little details like this can mean a lot.”
The juror added that breaking up the design field into small sections was “a very Haida way” of doing basketry design, because Liddle did “a lot with simple lines and shapes.”
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