Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw Chilkat weaver Meghann O’Brien places her designs firmly in modern culture and remains conscious of sacred function and traditional artistry, all while reconceiving the term “women’s work.” The Alert Bay, British Columbia, weaver is an artist-in-residence at the School for Advanced Research, and on Thursday, May 16, O’Brien discusses reconciling the divide between the high esteem for male-dominated totem/mask carving and the regard for weaving baskets and clothing. O’Brien wants to restore deeper meaning to clothing, a significance she sees as now absent from mass-produced and “disposable” garments.
She notes on her website (meghannobrien.com) that the concept of textiles having sacred power has long been held by indigenous groups around the world. And O’Brien believes that Chilkat weaving is “imbued with spirituality,” she says on her SAR artist page. This is one reason she works to elevate the perception of weaving within the hierarchy of Western art. Interested in haute couture, O’Brien lends the term Native significance. For example, as the 2019 Eric and Barbara Dobkin Native Artist Fellow at SAR, she is creating an intricately woven necklace in the Chilkat tradition. Using ancestral methods, she first splits and spins cedar-bark warp for a wearable pendant, then weaves the pendant with materials such as “cobweb weight” cashmere. This approach reflects her belief that tradition, quality materials, and the skill needed to make ceremonial or elaborate clothing all combine to build an art form worthy of high regard.
In addition to working as an artist, O’Brien has been a professional snowboarder (profiled in Snowboard Canada Women’s Annual and Snowboarder’s Journal, among other publications). Art has now overtaken athleticism. She explains on her website that “weaving has taught and opened so many other facets of perception ... [snowboarding is] simply a tool to be in and experience the mountains.” O’Brien’s residence at SAR continues until May 31.
O’Brien presents an artist talk at a reception and open studio in the Eric S. Dobkin Boardroom, School for Advanced Research (660 Garcia St.), at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16. RSVP by Monday, May 13; register at sarweb.org.