Spruce root weaver brings back lost craft to Southeast
Jennie Wheeler enjoys spending a peaceful day in her kitchen weaving spruce roots she collected herself from the woods around Yakutat.
“God gave us all this natural stuff to use,” she said as her fingers moved methodically. ”You can go out to the store and buy a lot of stuff but this is what He’s given you to use and it just seems so natural.”
Wheeler picked up the craft about 15 years ago when a carver from Sitka visited and asked if she’d like to help revive the forgotten art.
“In the 1800s, Yakutat Tlingits were known [as] the best spruce root weavers in Southeast Alaska,” she explained. “Then, from my understanding, in the late 1800s all the weavers died off and they weren’t teaching it anymore. There was no one around to teach.”
Now Wheeler is not only teaching herself how to make different basket styles, she’s also passing it on to others in her Southeast community.
“It’s very spiritual in a way too, but it’s also a blessing because now I’m starting to teach some of the younger generation here,” she said.
Her gift shop in Yakutat is filled with her latest creations, including spruce root headbands and bracelets. Wheeler also spends a lot of her time sewing, using furs like wolverine and seal, sourced right from Yakutat.
“Each piece I do is always pretty special to me,” she smiled.
For Wheeler, owning her own business is not only a way to make money but also a chance to show off her Tlingit heritage with her traditional crafts.
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