CASE STUDY - NMAI long-term collaborating with Tlingit weaver Teri Rofkar (almost 30 years)

Tlingit weaver and artist Teri Rofkar has been associated with the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) since the early 1990s. When studying collections housed at NMAI’s Research Branch in the Bronx, she said: "It was a once in a life time experience. To spend time with the old ones in all of those collections ... I was able to see the continuity and strength of the Tlingit arts! My work is forever changed ... for the better!" Teri spoke of her research, saying: "I am following the steps of my Ancestors, striving to recapture the woven arts of an indigenous people. The ancient ways of gathering spruce root, with respect for the tree's life and spirit, are a rich lesson in today's world. Traditional methods of gathering and weaving natural materials help me link past, present and future. Links with a time when things were slower paced, a time when even a child's berry basket was decorated with care. It is through sharing and exploring that this old art form shall take on new life."

What began as an individual Native artist accessing, researching and learning from the Tlingit items in the NMAI (and other museum) collections, grew into larger collaborative experiences of sharing and exploring western and indigenous science together with conservators from the NMAI and other museums. The numerous perspectives and specialties of the group led to a better understanding of the effort and expertise needed to produce a basket and to the importance of basketry within the Tlingit culture. Importantly, Teri’s work with the NMAI culminated with the development of a protocol for the care and conservation of Tlingit baskets that is being shared with other museums.

Another result of collaborating with Teri, was the opportunity to co-author papers and co-present with her at conferences on basketry and conservation that discussed the indigenous science involved in basketry.

Teri Rofkar and NMAI Fellow Caitlin Mahony harvesting spruce roots in Sitka Alaska. 06/2016

Teri Rofkar and Caitlin Mahony hosting a conservation workshop on Tlingit Basketry 04/2016. From Left to Right: Teri Rofkar, Gabrielle Tieu, Anna Keruzec, Kate Blair, Diana Gabler, Evelyn Mayberger, and Caitlin Mahony

L to R: Samantha Alderson, Objects Conservator American Museum of Natural History, NYC, Teri Rofkar, Tlingit basket maker and weaver, Christina Davidson, NMAI program support staff. Learning about the native science of basketry construction.

L-R: Teri Rofkar, Michele Austin Dennehy and Susan Heald

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This project was funded by the Anne Ray Charitable Trust with additional support from the National Museum of the American Indian.

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