Clarissa Rizal, left, talks about weaving the Thunderbird Chilkat robe at a symposium during Celebration 2016.

Clarissa Rizal, left, talks about weaving the Thunderbird Chilkat robe at a symposium during Celebration 2016.

Master weaver receives prestigious NEA heritage fellowship

Master weaver Clarissa Rizal of Juneau has received a 2016 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the biggest honor in the nation for someone working in traditional and folk art.

Rizal is a member of the Raven T’akDein Taan (black-legged kittiwake) clan of Hoonah. She was mentored by Jennie Thlunaut, herself a NEA Heritage Fellowship recipient, at a time very few people knew how to make Chilkat robes. Rizal has been been instrumental in perpetuating and reviving Chilkat weaving.

Her first Tlingit art teacher was Harry K. Bremner, Sr. of Yakutat.

In a quote on the NEA’s website, Rizal said, “After learning Chilkat, I gained the art of patience, the way of gratitude, and the act of compassion. The universe opened its doors with a flood of information; the kind of information not definable, yet powerfully written in our Native art, in the ways of our people, and in our commune with nature.”

Only nine people receive the award each year. Each recipient is awarded $25,000 and will be celebrated in Washington, D.C. this September with an awards ceremony and concert. They were also honored at a concert July 3.

“These nine individuals are not only highly accomplished artists, but are also dedicated to sharing these art forms with new audiences and teaching a new generation of artists,” said the NEA release.

“Rizal not only creates fine textiles, which would be sufficient to guarantee her artistic reputation, but she makes paintings, collages, and drawings that integrate the formline style of historic Tlingit art with modernist visions, creating almost surrealist two-dimensional works of visual intensity and drama,” wrote Aldona Jonaitis, director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, in Rizal’s NEA website biography.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts sent out a press release congratulating Rizal, quoting Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Kaaháni Worl as saying “Rizal’s leadership and commitment in revitalizing ancient Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving practices art forms that are integral to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures has contributed to a renaissance and resurgence of artists, who are dedicated to perpetuating these art forms and techniques. The fact that Rizal’s work and accomplishments (have) been acknowledged by one of our highest cultural institutions is testament to Rizal’s dedication and hard work, and is a welcome opportunity to highlight the significance of these art forms in our cultural heritage.”

Other recipients of the award this year include Dakota flute maker and player Bryan Akipa; Mardi Gras Indian craftsman and musician Joseph Pierre “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux; Irish button accordionist Billy McComiskey; Master Huastecan Son (a Mexican musical tradition) musician and advocate Artemio Posadas; Penobscot Nation ash and sweetgrass basket maker Theresa Secord; Laotian Khaen (free-reed mouth organ) player Bounxeung Synanonh; master shipwright Michael Vlahovich; and white oak basketmaker Leona Waddell. Posadas received the 2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship “in recognition of an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.”

In total, the NEA has awarded 413 National Heritage Fellowships since 1982.

Nominate next year’s awardees at



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