Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Woolly Dogs and Salish Weavers

Clal-lum Women Weaving Blanket oil on canvas, mid 19th century
by Paul Kane Royal Ontario Museum

The textile arts of Salish Weavers were world renoun. Captain Cook collected Salish weaving and a few rare remaining weavings are cared for today in European Museums. With weaving skill a Salish woman could earn status and material independence. A woman's wealth could be measured in the number of Woolly Dogs she kept. Wool dogs were bred for their soft thick undercoat, they were kept in small herds separate from any other type of dog, fed on salmon for glossy coats and sheared like sheep once a year. Kathy Duncan writes in an article, Coast Salish Weaving that materials sometines added to the dog wool included; goose, duck or gull down, that, like fur was left on the skin of the bird and cut into long strips to be woven into the wool; nettle or hemp fibers, fireweed and catail fluff. The weavings were sometimes colored with natural dyes: alder bark for red, lichen for yellow, oregon grape for gold, copper for blue otherwise the blankets artistry was found in the texture of the weave. With the upheavel of European contact, the availability of less expensive wool yarn and trade blankets not to mention the introduction of sheep traditional weaving declined. The dogs no longer kept from interbreeding, are belived to be extinct.

All of this history is reflected in the art work of contemporary Salish artist Susan Point. You can see it in her etched glass sculptural pieces based on traditional spindal whorls and in her exclucive designs for Pendleton Blankets.

Halibut, etched glass by Susan Point at Arctic Raven Gallery

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