On Thursday, 13 artists worked to replicate 147-year-old Alutiiq ceremonial garments as part of the Pinguat — Beads project funded by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Thursday’s event is part of an intensive five-day workshop led by June Pardue, a master skin sewer and beader with family ties to the community of Old Harbor, according to an Alutiiq Museum news release.
She and the other artists recreated a beaded traditional Alutiiq headdress, a set of ankle or wrist cuffs and a stole.
The original regalia set is on loan to the Alutiiq Museum from the Musée Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Pinart Collection. The items date back to 1872 when French explorer and collector Alphonse Pinart travelled around Alaska for a year learning about Alutiiq culture and language.
“Bringing back this artistic tradition it’s helping replace some of what was lost during conquest,” said April Counceller, the Alutiiq Museum’s executive director. “Difficult things happened, generations went by, but our community is just now starting to acknowledge that history and celebrate the ways that we have emerged from it.”
With programs like this workshop, access to traditional knowledge is more available to community members than in the past.
“When I was a kid in the ’70s, there wasn’t (this) cultural knowledge and sharing,” said painter Cheryl Lacy, who learned to bead when she was eight years old.
Lacy was one of the illustrators documenting the process and beaded garments through the creation of realistic watercolor portraits.
Participants ranged in age, background, and had varying degrees of beading experience. They sat around a large table in the museum’s gallery, sharing stories, swapping beading techniques and helping each other through the process.
Candace Branson, an Alutiiq dancer, said she learned how to bead from Leona Haakanson-Crow, an experienced beader who also participated in the workshop.
“We are excited to learn these skills to teach other,” Branson said, adding that she was also excited to start incorporating the beaded cuffs into her Alutiiq dancing attire.
In addition to beading, Branson will help write and translate instructions that will guide people through the process of making the beaded garments.
The instructions will be available on the Alutiiq Museum’s project webpage.
High school student Natalia Schneider is working with Branson to write and translate the directions into the Alutiiq language.
Schneider said translating the instructions is challenging because, although she has been learning Alutiiq since she was a child, she said she is not fluent and there are a lot of words that she and Branson do not know.
Because the written version of Alutiiq language is relatively new, and thus many elders cannot read in Alutiiq, the completed translations will be presented orally to elders, who will correct and revise the translations, Schneider said.
Next year, the museum will use this knowledge and guided documents to lead beading activities in villages around Kodiak, the news release states.
The beaded regalia was traditionally a form of visual communication, Counceller said.
“Every headdress carried a message,” she said. “If you were literate person of prehistory, you would be able to walk through a village and know, based on people’s clothing and based on people’s regalia, what village they come from, the status of their family, their role in the community.”
Modern headdress styles have changed since then, Counceller said.
The more-modern style of headdress includes free-swinging beaded strings that flow with the movement instead of the straight, hanging panels of the beaded strings on the traditional headdresses.
During the workshop, participants expressed excitement not only to learn traditional knowledge that can be passed onto future generations but also to create community.
“This kind of community gathering with women . . . talking and sharing stories, and creating this cultural atmosphere is just as invaluable as preserving the techniques to recreate the headdress,” Hanna Sholl said.
Pardue, the workshop leader, reiterated the importance of this project in bringing together the community.
This workshop is special to Pardue because “to have a group of sugpiaqt women beading together from different areas, it brings us together to learn together so we can continue to teach this to the younger generation,” she said.
To teach the public about the Pinguat — Bead project and to see the headdress and other regalia items, the Alutiiq Museum will host a free community beading event in the museum’s gallery at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The public will be able to meet the beaders, see the ancestral pieces and create their own beaded bracelet.