FAIRBANKS — First graders in Chris Villano’s classroom at Denali Elementary School excitedly lined up to try on a handsewn Alaska Native parka featuring a thick fur ruff.
“See how the wolverine fur is put on top of the wolf fur so it can be turned in and the cold won’t frost your face,” pointed out retired teacher Jeannie Nelson.
Nelson, who is of Eskimo heritage, spent a recent afternoon working with the children on a special art and cultural project involving Native parka trim.
She passed around old photos framed in beaded moosehide, showing Native women garbed in elaborate, long, fur parkas featuring Native-style trim to give the children an idea of how the designs embellished their parkas, mittens and mukluks.
Rather than using calfskin as Native sewers do, the children’s project involved replicating the trim by cutting strips of colored paper into small squares and triangles and pasting them onto a background paper.
“My grandmother does this,” one student said as she pasted her original design pattern to paper.
Once the first-graders finished putting together their own paper parka trim designs, they were rewarded with picking out a paper doll and parka to color and cut out and trying on a fur-trimmed parka. It was a toss-up as to which was the most popular reward.
Similar cultural projects have been going on in classrooms across the school district during November in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.
Villano said the special programs shows students that Native Americans live here and are part of a living culture, and projects are helpful for Native students.
“It makes them real proud. It makes history come alive for them in their own families and their own schools,” she said.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.