Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Birch Bark Art

I've been working on a new art project to enter in the "Earth, Fire, Fibre" exhibit at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art next month. I've been collecting and working with birch bark to make birch bark rice paddy hats. (Also known as 'coolie' hats, but I don't know the real name for them.)
I first made a sketch for a bark hat two years ago when I took a Native Arts class from Alvin Amason at UAF. Bernice Custer was a guest teacher and showed us her method for making birch bark baskets from carefully cut and sewn layers of bark.
I peeled this bark from a tree I found on the North fork of the Chena River. The tree was felled by a beaver and the crown had fallen into the water. Given this moisture, the bark was fairly easy to peel away from the tree. I felt much better about harvesting from a dead fall than from a live tree. Bernice told us that it doesn't hurt the tree at all to peel a certain amount of bark from it, but for some reason, I just can't quite believe this.

This is the basket I made in class. Students either truly loved or truly hated this project. I, of course, was in the former camp.
Sewing bark is hard work---like sewing dense cardboard. Each step of these baskets is very time consuming and a wrong step means hours of re-construction. This basket is make with birch bark, willow, spruce roots and artificial sinew. No glues! My main artforms to date are photography, painting and drawing, but honestly---I love making things with my hands....anything and everything. Birch bark was a new and fabulous material to experiment with.

I'm modeling the template for the first bark hat. I needed some kind of stiff paper or cardboard to make this mock-up, and realized I had several failed watercolor paintings laying around. A bit of cutting and measuring and voila! I actually like the hat version of this painting more than I liked the painting. I plan to finish this hat with a chin strap of some kind so I can use it in the garden.

Here is a full view of the template hat. So clever. Posted by Picasa

1 comment:

bugheart said...

that is such
a beautiful piece-
it belongs
in a gallery!