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Lost art of Ravenstail comes to life

VAUGHN, Wash.—Internationally acclaimed weaver and author Cheryl Samuel has spent years researching the lost art of Ravenstail weaving and creating stunning robes in the traditions of Pacific Northwest tribes. She has been sharing her journey and her works of art with people all over the country but on March 9, a Key Peninsula audience will get a rare opportunity — the robes will also be danced.

Samuel returns to the Key Peninsula by popular demand for a week of Ravenstail workshops for weavers of all ages and levels. During her visit, she will do a presentation on the lost form of First Nations People weaving for the general public at the Key Peninsula Civic Center. Following her presentation, Haan Dei I Jin and Tsimshian Haayuuk dancers will dance the robes woven by Samuel and other artists.

“It is rare, indeed, to see works of art danced before your eyes. The rhythms of the drums, the singing of the chants, the dancing of the robes with their swinging fringes—it’s all a visual feast. And to have it happen on the Key Peninsula — now that’s really something,” says Key Pen artist Jan Buday, who organized the event with Liv Torgerson.

The Ravenstail robes take more than a year to weave and use sophisticated techniques that emerged from basketry weaving. Samuel, who has a background in science, is credited with the revival of this form on the Pacific Northwest Coast. At the time of her research, these complex robes and blankets were only available in museum collections.

Samuel immersed herself in studying photographs and the few remaining textile pieces, starting out in the basement of Burke Museum in Seattle, and later traveling as far as Russia in a rare opportunity during the Communist era.

The robe Samuel created after her research was the first one using Ravenstail techniques in 200 years. She has worked with many First Nations communities since then to revive the lost art and has been teaching the techniques both to descendants of the original weavers and weaving enthusiasts. She also published a book, “The Raven’s Tail,” her second definitive work on Northwest Coast weaving.

The event, which begins at 1 p.m., is sponsored by the Two Waters Arts Alliance, a nonprofit arts organization based on the Key Peninsula.

“Two Waters Arts Alliance is thrilled to have the opportunity to sponsor this cultural event. It will be an unusual chance for the Key Peninsula community and visitors to hear how Cheryl Samuel brought back to the West Coast and British Columbia tribes the lost art of weaving these beautiful robes and blankets,” said TWAA President Molly Swensen. “To see the ‘Dancing of the Robes’ by Tsimshian Haayuuk Dancers and Haan Dei I Jin Dancers will truly be an extraordinary experience.”

Tickets for the event are $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased in advance online at www.twowaters.org and at Sunnycrest Nursery and Blend Wine Shop in Key Center. Tickets will also be available at the door.

The event is from 1 to 3:30 on Saturday, March 9, at the Key Peninsula Civic Center, located at 17010 S. Vaughn Road in Vaughn, just 20 minutes from Gig Harbor. For more information, go to www.twowaters.org. To learn more about Cheryl Samuel, go to ravenstail.com.

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ABOUT TWO WATERS ARTS ALLIANCE: Two Waters Arts Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, collaborative community-based organization that facilitates participation and education in the arts for the people of the Key Peninsula and surrounding communities. The TWAA focus for 2013 is aimed at its Artists in Schools program to keep art alive in local schools. For more information, go to www.twowater.org or email info@twowaters.org.