Combining traditional references with a contemporary aesthetic, this Merino Wool Felt Long Coat (2017) pays homage to the matrilineal social structure of the Tlingit tribe, and specifically to the artist’s mother and great- grandmother. Artist Tanis S’eitlin found inspiration in the Chilkat robe, a type of Tlingit regalia, that her mother made toward the end of her life.
Like that ceremonial garment, S’eitlin’s coat is constructed of heavy fabric, in this case industrial Merino wool felt from New Zealand. While the coat’s red-and-black color scheme alludes to Native button blankets, its design comes from a World War II-era Vogue pattern.
Its embellishments are also symbolic, including a design on the back of the collar referring to the “octopus bag,” a style of container, originally functional but now mostly ceremonial, that originated on the east coast of the United States and eventually reached the Tinglit in the northwest.
Likewise, on the bib, there is an abstract symbol of a wave, which references the artist’s matrilineal clan, known as the Luknax.adi, or Coho.
S’eitlin connects the weight of the coat (about 18 pounds) and “the sensation of being surrounded by ‘art,’ as was the case in the villages of my great grandparents during pre-contact” with cultural wealth.
Photographed in the Museum of Arts and Design as Part of the Exhibit, Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art, on View Through August 14th, 2022.