With all the buzz and hype around the fast-moving physical sports of the Olympics, it was easy to forget the massive cultural exchange that occurred when the countries of the world united in one city.
With the influx of thousands of people, the opportunities to share important artistic traditions grew to unimaginable size.
That’s the perspective of Ann Smith, of Tutchone and Tlingit ancestry, Wolf Clan member and Yukon traditional weaving master.
“It’s not just about being able to show my art to the world, but to leave them with a sense that these traditions must be continued in our youth,” she says.
Smith’s weaving has a rich and lengthy history, from an invitation from the Maori people in New Zealand to discuss her art, to a commissioned piece presented to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
Smith is seated before a traditional weaver’s loom to demonstrate the techniques she uses in her pieces. Each piece takes time and it is not unusual for it to last 10 months or more.
“I think weaving a large piece is like having a child. You begin and commit to it, and you see it grow from you. When it is finished, you must love it and set it free within the world.”
For Smith, the continuation of traditional weaving patterns and methods is crucial. She weaves Chilkat and Raven’s Tail in aprons, robes, regalia and bags, most of which reside with the Yukon Permanent Art Collection.
At the Olympics, her weaving was displayed at Canada’s Northern House, consisting of two aprons from her collection.
The weaving has many diamond and geometrical shapes and relies on fine black wool. Smith relates that at one point, porcupine quills and mountain sheep wool would be the only materials, but today’s vastly changing environment means traditional weavers have to be careful with maintaining nature’s balance.
“We want to leave behind our tradition and culture, but be sensitive to the ecosystem,” says Smith.
She displays her art and discusses weaving, not simply hoping to draw others to view the pieces, but to ensure the increasingly endangered practice will continue.
Having thousands of people flood Canada’s Northern House means the cultural practices will be soaked up by multitudes who might develop an interest in traditional ways of art.
In the Yukon, Smith teaches workshops and classes, ensuring her art will continue. With the Olympics, she is took advantage of a world-class vehicle to promote it and draw further interest.
The incredible exposure of the Olympic crowds means the delicate art of weaving and other traditional ways will hopefully be sustained in another generation.
“To reflect how the world changes, our art is contemporary skill blended with traditional ways,” says Smith.
Her artistic career continues to flourish, and with the coverage gained at the Olympics, she is hopeful many will come and appreciate the technique and history behind weaving.