Grantee: Clarissa Rizal
Few people in today’s world have the time and patience to endure the 2,000 some hours it takes to weave one Chilkat robe. But for Clarissa Rizal, weaving provides a relief from the commotion of modernity and releases her mind and spirit into a meditative state free to express tradition in creative forms.
Each year, Clarissa Rizal departs home in order to gather, teach and support new and existing generations of weavers in communities outside her own. She is grateful that her Tlingit culture is grounded in memory and practice of ancestral customs and traditions. When a Chilkat robe is completed, new and old songs are sung in a celebration of dancers and feast to commemorate the story woven in the robe. This holistic approach of traditional ways continuously compels and inspires Rizal to craft and teach traditional weaving, which perpetuates cultural and family history in new Tlingit designs.
The 2015 National Artist Fellowship provides support for Rizal to continue working on an upcoming exhibition celebrating Tlingit traditional and contemporary female regalia and clothing. Her project has been in process since the fall of 2014 with an expected opening in fall of 2016. Since Chilkat weaving is a long-term time commitment and a comprehensive process—a standard 6’ wide by 5’ Chilkat robe alone takes a year to weave—Ms. Rizal has prepared for the exhibit by designing patterns, preparing bark and wool, dyeing weft and spinning warp for the regalia and clothing she intends to make. Thus far, she’s completed “Chilkat Child” and will begin weaving a Chilkat robe.
For Clarissa Rizal, weaving and creating is her spirit and will never wane, which is why she regularly spins warp for more and new creative ensembles not yet commissioned.
“Tlingit women have always shown their love for their families, clans and community in the legacy of handcrafting their clothes,” explains Clarissa. And the 2016 exhibition is a display of this legacy as well as an honoring and recognition to the lives of past Indigenous women whose precious existence was worth more than their weight in gold.
I am born to a landscape, people and culture rich with beauty, diversity, strength and community . . . . if I did not create, little by little I would literally die – Clarissa Rizal.
Clarissa Rizal passed away in December 2016. While we are deeply saddened by the loss of this artist, we are honored to have supported her heritage practice, and again reminded of the urgency to preserve, honor, and pass on Native culture and tradition-based knowledge. The following is her artist biography, written in 2015.