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Loa Ryan

Loa Ryan

Gitlan, Tsimshian

(1939- )


Loa was born and raised in a Tsimshian village of Metlakatla, British Columbia in Canada. Loa is an enrolled member of the Metlakatla Band, Tsimshian Nation. She is the great, great, granddaughter of James Lequinisk, chief of the Gitlan tribe. Loa is of the house of Xpe Hanax, member of the Raven Clan (Ganhada).

It was in 1990 when Loa recognized the need to follow-up on her desire to learn the art and culture of the Tsimshian tribe. The resources were limited and almost non-existent. The first instructor was from the Suquamish tribe, who opened her eyes to a gift that had been hidden. It was through this experience that the need for more instruction was evident. She traveled to Alaska four summers in a row to study with Delores Churchill, who eventually shared an apprenticeship with the help of a grant from the Washington State arts Commission. Once the technique was learned, there was still a void, so an extensive basketry research period consumed about five years of her time.

Loa lectures and demonstrates basket weaving techniques to many organizations and events. Among these affiliations are the Tacoma Arts Commission; Puyallup Fair; South Seattle Community College; Evergreen State College; Seattle Art Museum; Lake Washington Technical College; school districts and tribal organizations, as well as a selection of galleries in the Seattle/ Tacoma/ Portland area.

She was taught many individuals the technique of Tsimshian weaving, including her daughter, Teresa and her grandchildren, Ryan and Ashley Cobb. Loa has been awarded many Folk arts Grants from Washington State throughout the years to apprentice with abd to teach upcoming future basket weavers in the Tsimshian tribe. Loa has taught at North Cascades Institute, Washington; Burke Museum; Hatzic Rock, Mission BC; Yakutat, Alaska.

Loa has earned top awards for her Tsimshian baskets, to include the Santa Fe Indian Market, in New Mexico; the Eiteljorg Museum , Indiana; Museum of Man, “best of show”, San Diego; Indian arts Northwest, Oregon juried shows; Urban Indian Days, Tacoma, juried show. She was awarded ‘Outstanding Tsimshian” award, presented to her by the Tsimshian tribe in Vancouver, BC on September 5, 2000. Her baskets can be found at the NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian), Smithsonian, Burke Museum, and Anchorage Indian Heritage Center and many private collections.

Loa gathers her weaving materials from Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Elements from western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar are gathered, as well as spruce root, canary grass, maidenhair fern, sea sweet grass and bear grass. These are woven together into baskets reminiscent of the ones used during her childhood, and replicate the works of her ancestors that are housed in museums across the USA and Canada.

In addition to traditional Tsimshian weaving, Loa expresses her cultural heritage in Chilkat and Raven’s Tail weaving. She has made tambourine drums, bent-boxes and carved spoons and masks. Loa has made several button blankets. She is an active member of the Tsimshian Haayuuk dance group, a Seattle based Tsimshian dance group.

“I spent many years studying the art of basketry. When I felt confident enough to expand my horizons on our weaving and the Tsimshian culture, I traveled to the larger museums to conduct research within their archives. They were, the Museum of Anthropology, UBC in Vancouver; Royal BC Museum in Victoria BC; The Burke Museum, University of Washington in Seattle; and the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian) in Maryland. The most impressive visit was in the collections of the Museum of Civilization in Hull in Quebec. The baskets spoke for themselves in spirituality and strength; the designs were beautiful and distinct from neighboring tribes.

The likelihood was evident of our ancestors; depicting food gathering and storage baskets created fro specific purposes. There was evidence of extremely hard work, both in creating the baskets and in the actual use for functional purposes. I immediately felt a close connection to the creators of the baskets.

I learned that our ancestors used more than cedar bark for gathering and storing baskets. I also learned the terminology in Sm’algyax for each basket, as well as historical designs, distinctive to the Tsimshian.

I am appreciative of our ancestors and their uncanny ability to combine beauty with form and function. I will do my best to pass on this knowledge to our people, both young and old. I will teach my students the art of gathering materials that are used for basket weaving - and in the process of learning, I hope they will gain knowledge to respect our natural resources, so that the craft of basket weaving can be carried on from generation to generation.”


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