In their collaborative studio in downtown Juneau, Chilkat weavers Lily Hope and Ricky Tagaban weave together, laugh together, and discuss what motivates them to create.
LILY: What excites you most about the work that you do?
RICKY: I spend a lot of time looking at really old photographs of stuff that our ancestors made. It can be really overwhelming. Maybe we will never be that good; we only have so much time to master these skills and practice. Knowing that we only have a limited understanding of what they had… I used to be stuck in that grief of what was lost. In the past couple of years, and [through] grieving other things, I realized I don’t want to live in that grief. I’d rather really live in what we still have and cherish [it].
LILY: I try not to look at the old pictures because then I get really sad about how few hours I have to create. Which, I guess I should stop coming from a scarcity standpoint… I usually am super grateful for the hours I do have to create art. So… erase that, and I’m just kidding.
RICKY: It’s real though.
LILY: Yeah. It’s like a race to see how many things I can make in this short period of time, like, “You have two hours! Go do this thing; finish that border; weave this shape; put those braids in!” And actually it’s pretty motivating sitting by you and watching you weave. “Oh god, I better hurry up because Ricky’s so fast.” When people ask me to describe my work, I’ve been trying not to say I’m a traditionalist, but I do work better when I’m acknowledging the history of it; I’m more successful in making the shapes if I remember to give thanks for all the things that have come here. And so if somebody says, “Hey, what do you do?” I say, “I’m a Chilkat Weaver. I hand-twine six-foot textiles mimicking Formline Art of the northwest coast in the traditional method.” And then that opens all the questions. [Laughter.]
RICKY: You do set your weaving stuff up in public. You garner a lot of people from all over the world who’ve maybe never heard of it.
LILY: That is true. And actually, that’s my favorite. I really love weaving in public.
RICKY: If I had an invisibility cloak, I’d love it. For me, the process is very private. And then I’m ready to share it with the world eventually.
RAINCHECK: [Who or what are your major influences in your work?]
LILY: I guess we always talk about her, but it’s my mother. And that’s inevitable; I can’t get away from that. [She created] monumental work that’s still in the Anchorage Medical Center and, like, SEARHC and Sitka. And the two button robes hanging in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall: those are my mom’s. So, huge influence right there: Clarissa Rizal. And really, just because I just kept saying, “Sure I’ll hang out with you. Sure. I’ll hang out with you. Sure.” Sometimes I look at these things we’re making and go, “Why? Why am I doing this?” And I think it’s for the quiet. Those moments of quiet are super rejuvenating. But the best part is connecting with community and realizing that there’s so many people hungry to keep learning, keep studying, keep weaving together. What is my love and what motivates me and what’s inspiring, is weaving with people and brainstorming; weaving ideas with people and all that.
RICKY: Yeah. Clarissa definitely fits in that category of like, “Oh my god, are we ever gonna be that good?”
LILY: [Laughter] I know.
RICKY: She was unstoppable. And she just did everything. She’s a huge influence.
LILY: Do you have a favorite project or one that has stood out to you?
RICKY: As soon as I’m done with a project, that’s my favorite part: that it goes out into the world and has its own life. I remember when I was a teenager weaving with Della Cheney; she said the stuff we make is going to outlive us. That really meant a lot.
LILY: I have to say that the collaborative works are my favorite. Not necessarily for the finished product themselves but for the experience of the making. That’s so invigorating. [I’m] just constantly thinking of the next community project of like, “How do we get more weavers involved? How do we support them through this?”
RICKY: Can we answer this question about each other?
RICKY: Okay, so I never ever felt like I should pierce my ears even though I perform in drag, and I make earrings that I sell all the time. You made those gorgeous Ravenstail earrings with variegated green and yellow and black and white. And I was like, now I really have to get my ears pierced because they’re so cute. [Laughter] And I could rock them when I’m Tlingit dancing. You’ve made, you know, giant, grand, gorgeous pieces, but those ones made me want to alter my body.
LILY: Wow! Okay now I have to say that that panel [you created] that Barbara Blake wears all the time: that’s just my favorite one. Maybe it was because it was one of your first completed big pieces? It just still makes me jump around to see it alive in the world. That’s really fun.
RICKY: You know what it’s called?
RICKY: I Just Ate a Sea Urchin. [Laughter]
LILY: Wow I have never eaten a sea urchin. Wow. How’s that possible? [To us, the audience] We’re working while we’re talking; it’s so funny. Let’s see. Where were we?
RICKY: You have any pliers over there?
LILY: Pliers…I don’t have any–Wait! What kind of pliers? [digs around] Ahh! [Finds some] Teeny tiny ones! We’re looking for pliers; sorry, listener.So this current project we’re working on has been on the loom for a couple of years, and one thing I learned is don’t sign a contract for an art commission to be done in a year when your baby is due two weeks later. I broke my foot and a whole bunch of other stuff snowballed, and I realized that it was quickly coming up to be due to be turned in. So that’s when I said, “Hey Ricky, you want to do this robe with me? I’ll pay you.” This [has been] a joint collaboration for the last five months, and it’s also an opportunity to rise together. There are few of us who weave Chilkat blankets, and anytime I’m doing a large work, I wonder who can benefit from this experience: career wise, monetary wise, energetically? Let’s see how many people can benefit from this experience. So of course I thought of Ricky, ’cause that’s forever been on my radar: How do we rise together? Let’s rise together.
RICKY: Yeah, when you asked me to help, I was like, “Well yeah, we get to hang out.” [Laughter] Of course I want to help. I want to spend time with you.
LILY: I guess that’s why I kept saying yeah to my mom too. And like, oh, cool; the side effect is that we become known Chilkat Weavers. Okay. Yay. But it’s also constantly keeping that in check; it’s not a single person winning or being the top dog. It’s like, how do we, as a community, make this art form more known in the world?
RAINCHECK: [Where did it start for you? Have you and Ricky collaborated before?]
LILY: Yeah, it’s where we both got our start, right? As far as Chilkat Weaving goes.
RICKY: We both did other stuff first.
LILY: Yeah. I dyed a lot of stuff and spun a lot of warp before 2010. But I didn’t weave Chilkat weaving at least until the same summer you did. And then she kind of roped us into that. Like, hey, come over. Help me with this blanket. And so Clarissa had us sitting there side by side on the loom.
RICKY: She’d sit in the middle and tell us stories. She wasn’t always weaving, but if we needed help, then she would.
LILY: Yeah, that was our first collaboration.
RICKY: She had you helping teach that class.
LILY: Oh, yeah, that’s right. She was like, “You’re gonna help me teach this because there’s so many students.” And I said, “I don’t Chilkat Weave.” And she says, “It’s cool. You’re just going to copy what I say and show people what to do and you’ll be fine.” [It was] a full month of me teaching with her. After, she slapped me on the back at the end of the last class, and she was like, “Well, now you’re a Chilkat Weaver.” I was like, “Ohhh. You tricked me, you tricked me!”
RICKY: It was a trick! [Laughter] I remember a lot of little things about that. She would eat little mandarin oranges while she was talking. It’s almost 10 years ago.
LILY: Oh my gosh, 10 years ago. Wild. See what happens? Now we’re doing more scary stuff and working on a full-size Chilkat blanket together.
RAINCHECK: [What’s the process like?]
RICKY: It kind of depends on what you’re looking at. I mean, it’s only been a couple hundred years where we as weavers have had to kind of cobble together all the ingredients. The distribution of labor used to mean that someone would spin all your warp; a different person could spin all your weft. Other people could dye those wefts for you. The people processing the wool didn’t necessarily hunt the mountain goat, or, you know, slip the wool off the hide. Different people could harvest the bark; different people could cook the bark. And now we’re doing all of it pretty much, other than harvesting mountain goat. We’re doing all the things. Even the design work.
LILY: Yeah that’s been the hardest part: realizing how simple it was before. Not only are we doing the weaving and the designing and the prepping and the dying, we’re also paying all the bills and like, you know, not necessarily hunting and gathering for food, but having to make enough money to buy the groceries to do that stuff on top of just weaving. And the childcare, and the, and the, and the. There’s a lot more weight and heaviness to it. Intensity. And really good motivation to be like, “Hey, you have to value this work differently than it was because we’re doing all of it now.”
RICKY: Yeah. It’s like a lifetime of learning and one really cool skill that’s really specialized. It’s the dream: Like, doing all local stuff. That connection to the land: there’s nothing like that. Being able to say this was from Tracy Arm, or such-and-such mountain outside of Haines, or my friend pulled this off the bushes with me on Mount Juneau.
LILY: And I spent 30 hours getting the dirt out of it. [Laughter]
RICKY: The poop and the slugs and the twigs and the moss.
RAINCHECK: [What advice would you give other artists?]
LILY: Narrow your focus and choose to excel on that thing that makes your heart go pitter patter. In the case of Chilkat weaving, I want to do it because I want to do it with other people. And so that’s where my heart gets filled: being with other people in the creation. Find that thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, and keep doing that thing.
RICKY: I would just expand on that, and I would say do it every day in some way.
LILY: Yes, every day!
RICKY: Even if it’s 20 minutes. And you know, it’s worth it. That 20 minutes will feed your soul and in a way that maybe nothing else can.