Weaving Art and Science Beautifully

Defining the work of weaver Teri Rofkar (Tlingit) is complex. Over the past 25 years, she has woven her connection to a web of historic knowledge, such as knowing where and when to gather wool, the deliberate processing of cedar bark, spruce roots, ferns and other fibers to make them ready for weaving and the intricate traditional design development that is her signature on the work.

Each act in the creation of a traditional robe is filled with nuance, connecting Teri to the history of the Sitka Tribe she belongs to, and their connection to the land and sea over millenniums. As a traditional art, Teri’s work involves preserving stories and the complexities of her Native language as well as her deep understanding of materials, artistry and design.

Made to be worn and used, the robes she weaves transfer warmth between the wearer and the robe. You will find tribal members clothed in Teri’s weavings at cultural gatherings and during ceremonies. More than objects, these robes are family members.

A few years ago, Teri traveled to Russia to view geometric style robes taken out of her community 200 years ago and now housed in a museum. The robes revealed a style of weaving no longer used. By bringing this knowledge back home, it was as if Teri had returned a nearly forgotten relative home to be amongst the Sitka people again.

Bordering the expanse of the robes Teri is weaving these days, you can find the double helix of a DNA chain. With the support of a 2013 Traditional Arts Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Teri is taking her work to scientific circles to demonstrate the math she and other Sitka weavers use in creating robes like this. Beyond math, the robe also embodies the natural science and biology knowledge her people needed to know to be able to harvest the spruce roots, and mountain goat wool, in a sustainable method. “The science of our people is solid and our knowledge is valuable,” said Teri. “We just recorded it differently. It’s the traditional arts that really show this information.”

“The robe I’m working on now will take me over 900 hours to weave,” explained Teri. “In collecting my materials and completing this work, I am also recording the discovery of a second goat population, dating back over 10,000 years. The only difference between this robe and a research paper, is the robe will be woven, worn and danced, then passed on from generation to generation through singing and retellings.”

Congratulations to Teri and all the 2013 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Fellowship awardees! We will be introducing each of them and their work throughout the year, so prepare to remain inspired. To learn more about Teri and her work, visit: http://terirofkar.com/.