Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing (15 of 23): Stretching, Scraping and Softening
Older generations of Alaska Athabascan (Dene) peoples tanned moose hides using time-tested methods to make strong, supple leather for sewing beaded or quill-embroidered tunics, jackets, mittens, bags and moccasins, as well as everyday essentials such as dogsled harnesses. Because traditional tanning is time-consuming and requires technical knowledge that has declined in recent generations, most moose hides are now sent out to commercial tanneries for processing with synthetic chemicals. Commercial tanning produces a lower quality hide, but more importantly, it displaces the passing on of Athabascan tanning knowledge. Recognizing this, contemporary artists Joel Isaak (Dena'ina Athabascan) and Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan) have been learning traditional methods for tanning moose hides from elders Helen Dick (Dena’ina Athabascan) and Jeanie Maxim (Ahtna Athabascan) and adding tested, contemporary tools. The Alaska office of the Arctic Studies Center worked with these committed artists and elders from September 2017 through June 2018 to carry out moosehide tanning work in communities and backyards in Kenai, Chickaloon, and Anchorage, and a sewing and beading residency at the Anchorage Museum. The collaboration resulted in the set of twenty-three educational videos presented here. A limited number of free DVDs are available upon request to Biddisond@si.edu or Crowella@si.edu. To learn more about Alaska Native cultures, please visit the exhibition website Sharing Knowledge: Alaska Native Collections at /http://alaska.si.edu, where you can also find educational materials in the Resources section.