By Emma DelliCarpini
Posted in News, on January 05, 2019
Within the Northwest Coast First Nations art market, the concept and boundaries of materiality are constantly being expanded upon and pushed. Copper, silver, gold, argillite, wood, bone and shell are all used in the creation of art and jewelry that is informed by the deep-rooted and diverse cultural milieu of the Northwest Coastal Nations of British Columbia. These media are used in conjunction with gems and stones, glass and plastic, roots, grasses, bark and steel to create distinctive works of art. Increasingly, these materials are surpassed entirely and new media pieces are produced in stunning displays of creativity and nuance.
Clinton Work, a Kwakwaka'wakw artist currently residing in Portland, continually augments these materials and in many cases translates formline and utility into contemporary iterations of cultural expression. Weather it is through his abstract design, use of material, or functionality of a piece, the result is always an example of artistic innovation and his own growth as an artist.
Clint out-did himself in terms of boundary-pushing creativity when he built and carved a 'bentwood box' made entirely out of LEGO for Lattimer Gallery's Annual Charity Bentwood Box Auction in December of 2018.
Soon after, he went even further to make Chilkat-style pendants out of LEGO - complete with trade beads also carved from the iconic children's toy. Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world. It is unique in that the artist can create curvilinear and circular forms within the weave itself and a Chilkat blanket can take up to a year to weave. Traditionally mountain goat wool, dog fur, and yellow cedar bark are used in Chilkat weaving. Materials used in Chilkat weaving have been being modified and adapted to availability since the practice began. When the coastal woolly dogs native to the Northwest Coast went extinct in the 19th century, mountain goat fur with plant fiber subsumed the dog fur in blankets, and later sheep's wool became the standard for ease of access.
As evidenced by Clint's creative take on this technique, we can see now that shifting materiality is still an important part of the practice of creating these Chilkat-style designs. While Chilkat blankets are Tlingit in origin, the design practice has been gifted and inherited through alliances and inter-marriage along the coast. It is now a weaving practice that can be found throughout north-coastal BC, although the rights to wear and dance a Chilkat blanket are not assumed through the rights to weave them.