Artist weaving: Juneau weaver Kay Parker
works on a ravenstail weaving Thursday at her
West Juneau home.Parker
, who was born and raised in Juneau, presides over the Ravenstail Weavers' Guild
and teaches ravenstail courses at the University of Alaska Southeast
.BRIAN WALLACE/ THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
A Weaver's tale Kay Parker
sustains the traditional forms of ravenstail weaving
"I've always been interested in handwork," said Parker
...Born and raised in Juneau, Parker attended Monterey Pacific College for two years, earning an associate's degree in data processing.
From 1971 to 1974, she
owned and operated The Leather Shop downtown, selling custom-made leather clothes. Parker is a coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Multiple Listing Service and executive officer for Southeast Border Realtors.
But being a bookkeeper, managing organizations, maintaining databases and doing reports is half of Parker's story.
Ravenstail pioneer Cheryl Samuel motivated Parker
to learn to weave in 1990.
wove handbags at first, which is routine for beginners.She
said beginners take about 40 hours to finish their first bag.
A bib might take Parker several weeks, three to four hours a day, but a robe requires even more patience.It took Parker and six other women about a year and a half to complete their "Hands Across Time" ravenstail robe for the Alaska State Museum in 1993.
"It can sometimes take you a half an hour just to weave one row all the way across," said Parker
."Then you have a bunch of strands in between that you have to manipulate, so it might take you another half an hour to manipulate all those strands." Parker
said the old ravenstail robes were woven in two styles, compact or "space-twined."Compact weaving consists of 24 to 30 rows per inch, while space-twined weaving has eight.Weaving a space-twined robe takes about six months of working, 20 hours a week.Parker
said one of her
compact robes took her
several years. Parker
remains faithful to the traditional forms of ravenstail weaving.Those characteristics include black, white and yellow patterns of zig-zags, stripes and blocks - very geometric designs.
"Most of the things I've woven are all traditional patterns," said Parker
."They're all patterns from the old robes."
According to Parker
, ravenstail weaving was virtually nonexistent for nearly 200 years.It evolved into the more totemic Chilkat weaving prior to the Alaska Natives' first contact with Europeans in the early 1800s.
When the first explorers came to the Northwest coast, Alaska Natives were wearing ravenstail and Chilkat robes, but very few people knew how to weave ravenstail.
"Once the weavers learned how to weave circles and curved lines (as found in the Chilkat weavings), they were no longer interested in these (ravenstail) robes, and they quit weaving them," said Parker
"These are all that exists in the world for us to learn from about ravenstail," said Parker
, holding a copy of Samuel's second book, "The Raven's Tail." Parker
has remained curious, knowledgeable and sensitive to the ravenstail art. She
teaches a range of people, from university students to Alaska Natives to senior members of the children's dancing group All Nations Children
has been working with the children's group since 1998.
"It's not really very difficult, it's just a matter of sitting and making your hands figure out how to do it," she