Monthly Archives: June 2018

Alaskan Stories Sewn and Carved

Last week Julie P. wrote about the picture books she discovered on her journey to Portugal. This week, I plan to share some art and stories from our trip to Southeastern Alaska.

We traveled by small boat – an Uncruise – chugging up the inlets of the Inland Passage between Juneau and Ketchikan, everyday kayaking and hiking into the fiords and forests. jkpaddleAKI grew up near Yosemite in California and I think the best way to describe this scenery is to imagine Yosemite – the towering granite cliffs, the waterfalls – filled with salt water. In addition to the animal life you’d find in Yosemite, like bears and mink and eagles, the Southeastern Alaska wilderness is home to whales, sea lions and harbor seals, etc. Yes, it was amazing.

But just as intriguing was the opportunity to learn about the native people of this area – the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Our trip included a visit to the Chief Shakes longhouse in Wrangell.

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There, a man named Arthur talked about the history of the Tlingit people and the building of the longhouse, and, more personally, the history of the blanket robe he wore, a garment that had originally been his grandmother’s.

With the robe for illustration, Arthur talked about the two “moieties” in the Tlingit tribe: eagle and raven. Families follow a matrilineal line and marriages are traditionally only allowed between one of each moiety. Arthur’s grandmother was of the eagle clan, thus the eagle at the top front of his blanket.

During his grandmother’s youth, the western government disallowed all tribal regalia as well as the Tlingit language. Grandmother’s robe, made of black and red government-provided blankets and decorated with white buttons, was hidden between the studs of her house.

When Arthur was a young man, his grandmother showed him the robe, then returned it to its hiding place. “It kept us warm, even then,” Arthur said. Thirty years later, Arthur’s family sold the house and the new owner remodeled. A demo crew found the robe and set it aside. The new owner noticed it and stuffed it into a trash bag. When the owner left, workers rescued the robe and gave it to a tribal leader who recognized that it had belonged to Arthur’s grandmother. Five years ago when Arthur left his job as a fisherman to learn more about his Tlingit culture, he took a Tlingit name. The tribal leader gifted him back his grandmother’s robe, which he has altered to fit. Over the years he added an Orca on the front and Wolf and Bear images on the back – each depicting other parts of his family.

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Arthur’s robe is a visual reminder of his family lineage in Tlingit images. In a culture that had no written language, the robe holds the stories.

In Ketchikan at the end of our journey, we met Jason, a Tsimshian guide, in the Totem Heritage Center. He unwound the stories of five ancient totem poles. He told us how totem poles could have a funerary or commemorative use, or tell a family’s history. But this particular one was made to tell a cautionary tale.

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As Jason told us, the face featured is that of a strong and arrogant man who went out fishing. He didn’t want to wait for his partner so he went alone. “That’s when the Alaska weather showed up,” Jason said. Waves capsized the man’s canoe. “The mythological killer whale people saw him. They recognized him as a strong and important person and saved him, bringing him underneath the water to the mythological village of the killer whale people.” They revived him, so he stayed with them for many years to repay them.

Eventually he got homesick. He realized he was not strong enough as a regular man to make it from the bottom of the ocean to the surface. “So he wrapped himself in a sealskin and transformed himself into a seal – until he broke the surface of the ocean and returned to his people.”

Jason added that there are two morals from this story: “Never go out fishing alone, and always take care of those who take care of you.”

This totem pole, unlike most, is carved on all sides. The seal’s skin wraps around the man, with the head of the seal (a little damaged due to age) rising straight above the man, as the seal swims up to the surface of the water.

Stories and storytellers and the beautiful native art that holds the stories surely added to our Southeastern Alaska adventures. These tribes’ oral storytelling traditions relied on art made from materials at hand: fabric, buttons and sewing needles, and huge cedar logs. But the urge to tell a story with words and images is the same urge we picture book people feel. It’s a part of the human condition.

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Portugal – Books, Livros, Livres

Ó – it’s a gallery!

Walking on a cobbled street in Porto, Portugal I wandered into the Ó Galeria – a light and airy room filled with the art of Portuguese illustrators.

They were featuring the art of Mariana Malhão. So free and playful!

She just illustrated her first book – poems by Antonio Jose Forte.

In Lisbon, the shop It’s A Book   was chock full of exciting books from Portugal and around the world. If Lisbon is too far, you can visit online here.

A feast!
I bought several books and hungered for more.

Sombras by Marta Monteira shows curious interactions between people, shadows and objects. The shadows have a life of their own. Things happen, sort of.

ABC do CINEMA by Editora Triciclo (Ana Braga, Ines Machado and Tiago Guerreiro is a graphic delight – handprinted (risografia).  Each page features trivia about famous movie directors, made even more intriguing because it is in Portuguese. 

La Visite by Junko Nakamura is a wordless book – subtle and moody. It tells a loose story of cats and christmas and people. Things happen, but the narrative is winding. The story could be interpreted in many ways.

L’Orchestre by Chloe Perarnau is an oversized book. Each page is a postcard from a city somewhere in the world with a member of the orchestra somewhere on the page.

Each page has many stories, plots and subplots. Can you find Lola playing the harp in Porto?

Traveling fills me up with images, ideas, sounds and flavors. Portugal is a visually rich country. The illustration that I saw there is exciting and strong, and grows out of that rich visual history.

This image from 1956 was at the Gulbenkian Museum.

and this is newly published by Planeta Tangerina.

The specific books I bought are filled with evocative imagery and are relatively plotless – a good description of my recent trip and possibly of life.