Book celebrates historic Ravenstail dress exhibit at State Museum
The Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum are releasing a book to celebrate the end of a special exhibit of Ravenstail dresses, a weaving technique largely forgotten for over 100 years.
“The Ravenstail weaving technique, which had all but disappeared,” said Steve Henrikson, curator of the state museum’s collections. “In the early ’90s there was a lot of research into the few surviving dresses and efforts to bring those traditions back.”
Henrikson is one of the authors of a companion book to the museum’s special exhibit of old and new Ravenstail dresses, “The Spirit Wraps Around You: Northern Northwest Coast Native Textiles,” which ends October 9. The book contains all of the information on the museum’s display panels and more, Henrikson said, with high-quality photos of all of the exhibits in the exhibit.
The exhibit features several dresses made by modern Native Alaskan weavers who have revived the technique in recent decades, Henrikson said, and it was a rare opportunity to see the new dresses alongside the old ones.
There are only a dozen old Ravenstail dresses in existence, Henrikson said, and most of them can be found in museums on the east coast of North America and in Europe. Henrikson said the two dresses on display at the State Museum were on loan from other museums, one to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and the other to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ont. Canada.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into getting people to see what a top quality dress is,” Henrikson said. “A lot of old pieces are not on display, they are too fragile, they can only be displayed for short periods.”
The book – named after the exhibit – is co-authored by Henrikson, Lani Hotch, Marie Oldfield and Evelyn Vanderhoop, and contains basic information on the weaving technique and dyes that go into making a dress .
The show began on May 9 and Henrickson said attendance was lower than she hoped. Henrikson said he hoped residents of Juneau would visit by October 9, calling the exhibit a unique experience.
“One of the main themes of the exhibition was to show how these objects are used over the years and by people who have finished collecting them,” said Henrikson. “A lot of people today would see this like any other art, but they are sacred objects, they are both art and sacred objects.”
There are Ravenstail dresses from Southeast Alaska in the collections of the British Museum in London and the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg, Russia, Henrikson said. International law regarding sacred relics is complicated, Henrikson said, and when the museum borrowed the robe from the Royal Ontario Museum, the museum had to have the US State Department certified that it would not be seized. in the USA.
“It’s a sign of how precious these things are and coming from here,” Henrikson said.
Henrikson said the book would be available to order online and although the museum store closed during the pandemic, staff were looking for a way to sell the books in the museum lobby.
“The Spirit Wraps Around You: Northern Northwest Coast Native Textiles” is available on the Friends of the Alaska State Library Archives website: foslam.org/store. $ 40 ($ 35 for members of the Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum).
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.