Chilkat Blanket, Native American, Tlingit people, 19th century
A chilkat blanket is worn draped over the shoulders of chiefs or high-ranking men during important ceremonial occasions. The graphic, bold design elements are derived from family crests and are composed of abstracted animals’ faces, eyes, snouts, fins, beaks, and wings, which fill the design field with perfect bilateral symmetry. Women weave the robes from goat wool and soft cedar bark, working from design boards painted by men. Their looms have a top frame and side supports, but the warp threads hang freely at the bottom.
Historically, chilkat robes were items of great prestige and were treasured gifts when received at a potlatch ceremony. During the 19th century, when Tlingit and other Northwest Coast individuals became wealthy by way of the fur trade, the potlatch reached new extremes of gift-giving and display. According to some accounts, chilkat robes were burned as a demonstration of the host’s wealth and largesse.
Dr. Emily Hanna, curator of the arts of Africa and the Americas
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Visit the Hanson Art Research Library for these and more books and resources about Native American art:
Cheryl Samuel. The Chilkat Dancing Blanket. University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Aldona Jonaitis. Art of the Northern Tlingit. University of Washington Press, 1986.