I have such gratitude for all my teachers. I’ve felt this way even before I met Joey Holmes, one of my Lushootseed language teachers who continually says with a big smile: “Knowledge is a gift”. Do we realize that enough? How do we use the knowledge that is shared with us? Does knowledge given to us come with a responsibility? What does reciprocity look like? We all do hold priceless pieces of knowledge that comes from our own unique experiences growing up, gained throughout our lives. But does certain knowledges have proprietary ownership and responsibility? Might be good to think about?
I am incredibly grateful for Audrey Armstrong and her family for coming to share their knowledge with us, and for welcoming us into their family. I also want to shout out a big thank you to Kim Latham for reaching out to Audrey. With another big thank you to Cyndy Holtz, Basketry Program Coordinator at BARN, for arranging this workshop to be held in their Fiberart Studio. Cyndy and Kim spent a lot of time this year, along with many of their wonderful friends, picking up and saving fish skins wherever they were to be found. They provided the vacuum packed, frozen fish skins we needed to make this workshop a success. Each student in this workshop was a joy to be with and added their own experience to the learning.
We are back for day three and four of our Fish Skin Project at BARN. Our teacher is Athabascan-Kohukan Artist, Audrey Armstrong. We are getting lots of encouragement and help from Audrey’s husband Scott, her daughter Alicia and her son-in-law Kai. We have cleaned and cured our fish skins, cut them into pieces using a pattern Audrey planned out for us, and we’ve sewn the pattern pieces together. These have been drying overnight, conforming to the shape of the plastic bowls we are using as molds.
The skins have stiffened. Today we will choose decorative beads to adorn the side seams of our bowls.
I can’t tell you all the wonderful background stories that Audrey shared with us about her experiences with fishing, her love of the outdoors, her younger years of learning how to work hard to live off the land and sea. These are the culturally rich stories that make it so worthwhile to learn from a good teacher.
Students with beading experience excelled today. I was rather slow and unimaginative, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of ways to decorate that each student demonstrated. I wish I had taken more pictures of how unique and beautiful the variations were. One student decorated the seams on her fish skin bowl by sewing on strips of lovely green lichen she had found on a walk.
We had to get all our seams decorated and a band of fish skin folded over the rim to complete our tasks of the day. This rim piece is important for making the bowl have strength and to hold its shape. But the rim piece also needs time to dry and stiffen on the mold.
Day four – The fish skin rims have stiffened while drying overnight and the molds are no longer needed. Today we will sew a few more decorative shells or beads that will stitch through the rim piece to secure it well.
On this last day of class Audrey welcomed Suquamish Elder Ed Carriere for a visit. Ed had just returned from his big adventure to Washington DC to receive a National Heritage Fellowship Award. Ed has worked around fish all his life and was delighted to hear about Audrey’s artistic work with fish skins.
Many students in this workshop are here because of their passion for good health for everyone, for preservation of the environment and healthy habitat for salmon and other creatures of the land and sea. There were also many Culture-Keepers from the Suquamish Tribe present. It was amazing to be in a room for four days with such thoughtful people, whose examples are very powerful to me.
Suquamish Elder, Betty Pasco, was welcomed by Audrey and embraced by her family. Something about learning and getting to make things can be very healing. This past June, Betty Pasco was a recipient of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s very first BRAVA Award. My next blog entry will tell a little more about Betty.
Alicia has a new “Grandma” or “Auntie” Betty!
Audrey is emotionally touched by the gift of a Yellow Cedar Bracelet from Suquamish Weavers Denita and Joey Holmes.
It’s not my story to tell, but Kim Latham, who contacted Audrey to come teach, gave Alicia a significant gift. Alicia is an incredible beadwork artist, and this gift likely will give her inspiration for new work.
Everyone completed their fish skin bowls. That was quite an accomplishment, and shows what a highly organized and well prepared teacher Audrey Armstrong is.
And I’m just enjoying being a student.
Thank you Audrey, Scott, Alicia and Kai!