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Work of the Week: Dance Blanket with Diving Whale and Raven Motifs

The Chilkat Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest operate on a matrilineal kinship system, with family traditions and bloodlines passing down through the mother’s clan. These clans were represented by ravens, eagles, or other animals adorning quotidian or ritual works such as this dance blanket. This stunning work from southeastern Alaska shows a diving whale, the animal for this particular clan, flanked by symbols of the raven. The whale spreads symmetrically across the blanket, with its large eyes and nostrils at the bottom of the blanket and its flippers spread across the top. Ceremonial blankets like this took a year to weave, which meant only the wealthy had the opportunity to make or own one. Chilkat men created the pattern by drawing its outline onto large wooden boards that Chilkat women then used as a guide during the complex weaving process. The final product, such as this one, was heavily fringed, making the wearer’s dance movements more pronounced.

See this dance blanket and other Indian art of the Americas in Gallery 136.

Chilkat Tlingit. Dance Blanket with Diving Whale and Raven Motifs, late 19th century. Southeastern Alaska, United States. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.