When she sold her final Chilkat blanket in 1985, famed Tlingit weaver Jennie Thlunaut wrote a notarized note to the buyer, Dr. Robert Page.
In the note, Thlunaut wrote that she was “the last of the authentic traditional Chilkat Blanket weavers,” and stated that this blanket would be the final one she would weave. A year later, Thlunaut died at the age of 94.
Page and his wife Winni have held onto the prized blanket since then. Page, 86, has recently been pondering what to do with the blanket. According to a news release from the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Page sold the blanket to the institute to make it available to more researchers and weavers.
“I was worried about what to do with it because it is such an outstanding icon of Native art and history in Southeast Alaska,” Page said in the release. “It is very pleasing to me and my wife, Winni, that the blanket is now at Sealaska Heritage Institute. That is where it should be.”
Page, a former Juneau resident, sold it to SHI for just one-quarter of the appraised value, according to the release. Chilkat blankets, also referred to as Chilkat robes, are historically worn as status symbols in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures and were also given as gifts ceremonially.
SHI President Rosita Worl is Thlunaut’s granddaughter, and co-authored a biography of Thlunaut that appears in the book “The Artists Behind the Work.” Worl expressed her deep gratitude to Page for making the rare item available to them.
“Sealaska Heritage is a nonprofit with limited resources, and we couldn’t pay full price,” Worl said in a release. “The uncommon generosity of these donors means that our artists will be able to study Chilkat weaving from the master herself, who made the robe at the end of her life and was considered to be a national living treasure.”
It is the only weaving by Thlunaut in SHI’s ethnographic collection, according to the release. The institute will make it available to artists and scholars for study.
The robe was made for a child, according to the release, and tells the Tlingit story of Raven successfully scheming to kill a fat deer by pretending to betroth him to his daughter. An appraiser in 2001 wrote that he knew of only one other miniature Chilkat robe, according to the release, which was also made by Thlunaut in the mid 1970s for her grandson.
Thlunaut, an Eagle from the Kaagwaantaan clan, was born in 1892 and began weaving when she was 10. She became a master Chilkat weaver and taught the art to a few select apprentices, including Anna Brown Ehlers and the late Chilkat weaver Clarissa Rizal. The National Endowment for the Arts recently named both of them National Heritage Fellows for their Chilkat weavings.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.