Barking up the right tree
FORT RUPERT—Rough strips of tree bark were transformed into decorative hats, vases and baskets last weekend during a three-day cedar weaving workshop hosted by Anthony Hunt and Donna Cranmer at the youth centre on the Kwakiutl First Nation reserve.
“It’s amazing how many people want to do this,” Hunt said Saturday as he surveyed a dozen participants scattered among tables covered with narrow cedar strips, hat forms, water buckets, bottles and vases. “I want to try to do these here once a month, and also once a month in Port Hardy.”
The workshop began Friday with a lesson in “thinning” the cedar, turning the rough, raw material into smooth, narrow strips suitable for weaving.
With the aid of soaking and repeated sprinklings of water by weavers as they work, the cedar remains almost silky smooth and flexible.
“I thought it would be rough; I thought, ‘what about splinters?’,” said Maggie Sedgemore. “But it’s very smooth. The hard part is thinning it right so you end up with long enough strips. You can’t do very much if the strips aren’t long.”
Hunt provides all the cedar bark, which he harvests each year during the warm months.
“You have to do it when the pitch is running on the red cedar,” said Hunt. “Otherwise, it won’t come off the tree.”
Last weekend’s workshop drew participants with a wide range of skill and experience, from veteran weavers to first-timers like Debbie Hunt and Leslie McGarry, who both traveled from Victoria to take part.
After getting their initial lesson in thinning, weavers were given their choice of items to make. While Hunt recommends baskets or vases to new weavers, most opted to make the decorative and recognizable, wide-brimmed Kwakwaka’wakw cedar hat.
“The hats are a lot more work,” said Hunt, pointing out several vases and bottles that were already finished Saturday while most weavers were only halfway through completing their hats. “The thing that surprises them is now much cedar they need. There are about 300 to 400 pieces in a hat.”
The items are woven over hat-shaped forms, and are worked from the top down. Vases and bottles are also built around those items and can take a variety of shapes. In the case of long-necked bottles, the weaving remains wrapped decoratively around the bottle, which cannot be removed.
Many of the weavers worked at long, communal tables. Others worked singly at smaller desks.
They included Rita Hunt, who sat surrounded by thick piles of rough cedar as she wove a hat on a miniature-sized form.
“I’m making a hat for my granddaughter,” she said.
Anthony Hunt noted this would probably wrap up the workshop season as the weather turns to spring and outdoor activities.