Medium: Skin Sewing
Skin sewer Lalla Williams is the daughter of Lucille Antowok-Davis of the Kodiak Island village of Karluk. At age 43 she attended the Institute of American Indian Art – studying museum practices and creative arts. Lalla’s artwork is inspired by her heritage and more than 20 years of researching Alutiiq traditions. According to Lalla, “I have been blessed with the overwhelming urge to create art. Since I was young I was always experimenting with sewing, dyeing and making something out of cloth. When I discovered my Native roots in the ‘80’s, the choices of materials and objects increased phenomenally. My yearning to create art now had a new passion. I could celebrate the story of my people and the culture of my ancestors.”
Lalla writes, “My Nativeness is a strong motivation for the creation of my body of work. My art is an expression of my soul. It allows me to grow as a person by connecting me to my past and guiding my future. My art also teaches other people about the strength and creativity of the indigenous people of Kodiak. We were not all wiped out by the Russians, but we were quiet about our history for several generations. The unearthing of our artifacts revealed the ingenuity and capacity of our ancestors to create beautiful garments, masks, and tools. This new knowledge is a source of great joy to current generations of Kodiak people. Through my art, I get to share in being a messenger of the new knowledge to others, like what the anthropologists’ books taught me.”
“So, I make art because I love it. For many years I worked some kind of a day job and squeezed art in at night. However, since I started creating art as my day job, I am much happier. I have moved from making traditional art, as reflected in the dolls, bent wood visors, regalia and head dresses to more contemporary works, including the seal intestine windows, which was the original material used for windows on Kodiak.
Making a Seal Intestine Window
“I start by deciding the size of the window and sketching the design on a cardboard jig. I cut out the pieces of the intestine to be design sections, such as flowers and leaves, and apply the color with permanent ink. I then sew the design sections by piecing them to the natural intestine background using waxed embroidery floss or hemp. I sew the overlapping seams together using waxed black thread. All the pieces are damp when I sew to prevent cracking of the intestine. When assembled the entire window is misted with water and placed between paper towels and then is weighted down with books to make it as flat as possible. When they are flat the pieces are framed.”
Making a Vest
“I am interested in creating new art forms from fabric and fiber that I can manipulate through, dyeing, marbling, and stenciling with Native designs. I want to transform modern materials into objects that can reflect light in a way that ads texture and luster to them. I have achieved a bit of this with the vests that I have produced. I start these garments by selecting a fabric with nap, such as velveteen. I wash and dry the fabric and cut out the patterns of the garment. I then attach stencils of the design to the cloth and lightly mist bleach on the non-stenciled pieces of the cloth. I carefully remove the stencils and immediately rinse the material to stop the bleaching process in order to limit it to the top layer of the nap of the cloth. This gives the fabric a mottled look. The article is then washed and dried and sewn together to form the final garment.”
“I create art because it fills me with joy.”
Photo of Lalla Williams, courtesy the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
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Artist Contact Information
learn more about Lalla and her work on the
Alaska Native Arts Foundation website
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