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A Primer On Alaska Native Art

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Materials Used in Contemporary Native Alaskan Arts and Crafts

Fibres Used In Weaving


Cedar bark is often used in Tlingit Indian blanket weaving (mixed with mountain sheep wool).


Birch bark is most often used in solid basketry, or it can be plaited. Generally it is stiffened with spruce or other wood, and laced with sinew or spruce root.


Beach grass is split with the fingernail, soaked, and woven in various ways by Aleuts and Yupik Eskimos to produce baskets of all sizes and shapes.

Bone, Ivory, Antler, and Baleen Used In Carving


Whale vertebra often used for large sculpture.


Small examples of cow walrus tusks (bulls are longer and straighter, but not so good to carve). Used for sculpture and jewelry.


Examples of caribou "shovels". These, along with the main round-section body of the antlers, and the pointed tines are all used much like ivory. Moose antler is used similarly.


This is a very small section of bowhead whale baleen (they can be 10 times larger!). This is used for scrimshaw, jewelry, bases for figurines, and strips for basketry.

Furs and Skins Used In Sewing


Moose hide is "slipped" of hair by soaking it for a long time, and then smoke tannned over a smoldering fire of rotten wood. It is used for jackets, beading, mittens, and other sewing crafts.


Seals of different species are skinned, and the hides are stretched on a rack or wall. When dry they are tanned and fashioned into all types of sewn crafts such as mukluks and parkas.

Woods Used In Carving


Yellow cedar is the premier wood used for all types of carving by Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimpshian Indians of Southeast Alaska. It is a soft, yet crisp, very aromatic wood.


Red cedar is less common in Alaska than the yellow variety, but was once used for making large canoes, and today is still used to make totem poles.


Dritwood (largely spruce from the interior) is mainly used by Eskimo carvers of the treeless coastal regions for masks, spoons and bowls.


Beaver hides are stretched and dried and tannned like seals. The hides are most often used for ruffs at the tops of mukluks, or sleeves of parkas. They are also a favorite fur for hats and mittens.

Information and "Webtour" of Native Alaskan Arts and Crafts