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Dorothy Grant


Eric and Barbara Dobkin Fellowship

The marriage of Northwest Coast art and American haute couture remains the exceptional achievement and creative expression of clothing designer Dorothy Grant, who was awarded the 2007 Eric and Barbara Dobkin Native Artist Fellowship at the School for Advanced Research on the Human Experience (SAR). “As a young girl, my maternal grandmother taught me how to make traditional button robes and spruce root basketry. It was during that time that I learned the cultural meaning of the artistic traditions as a Haida woman. I now feel the need to return the knowledge to my communities.”

The adoption of Native American designs and styles in couture has an interesting history, and for Dorothy Grant, a positive outcome. While attending community college in Seattle in the 1970s, she decided to make something that drew her to her cultural heritage—something that helped shape her own identity within a larger Native tradition. “A button blanket was the first thing that came to mind that I knew I could do without having to go through any kind of training because I had been sewing since I was thirteen.” Sketches drawn from Northwest Coast form-line designs on coppers, totem poles, wooden carvings, and the like were incorporated into her plans for future clothing creations but were not enough. “In my mind, I could see it, but I didn’t have the technical training to illustrate.” College classes in Vancouver guided her work, eventually fusing a powerful cultural integrity and heritage with pure talent. Today, her Feastwear™ clothing line highlights the ways that forms of dress are metonymically and metaphorically tied to daily living, identity, ceremony, ritual, and individual thought.

“For the past 20 years, I have been researching Haida designs in my local communities and transforming this knowledge into garments. These garments include memories from my childhood. All of this has been made possible for me by the encouragement and endorsement from elders in my community.” Her unique creations, moreover, cannot be denied in the challenging world of couture. Grant’s designs successfully emerge as cutting-edge, and they express the exhilarating freedom of innovation. While inspired by and grounded in a deeper understanding of the past, her work is not beholden to the tenets of tribal or “primitive” art. It has modern lineal clarity, directness in form and shape, and a kind of lyrical paean that speaks to today, to artistic empowerment, and to an unabashed, well-deserved pride in being and expressing herself as a woman.

While on campus, Dorothy will develop several formats for sharing her traditional knowledge and personal and professional experiences with other Native people. She wants to produce 3-5 unique hand-cut, painted garments and produce experimental photo-journalistic processes that can be incorporated into tribal colleges, other Native curricula, and community programs.

The School for Advanced Research is pleased to welcome Dorothy Grant as the 2007 Eric and Barbara Dobkin Fellow.