Artifact of the Month
Artifact of the Month: February 2024 (2 of 2)

Sea Otter Fur Vest, "DaKl'aweidi"

Ketchikan Museums is pleased to announce the purchase of a fur vest titled, "DaKl'aweidi" by artist Christy Ruby, made in 2023. Ruby's vest showcases her signature colored sea otter fur in herring blue and whale grey. The back features a Northwest Coast Killer Whale design created by Ruby under the mentorship of Tsimshian master artist Ken Decker. Unlike drawing or painting, creating formline design for fur requires some creativity since the lines cannot be any thinner than a quarter inch. The vest consists of 48 pieces, individually cut and hand sewn together. At the museum's request, Ruby left off a liner to allow future fur sewers to see her technique.

The fur industry was what had originally attracted Russians to Alaska in the 1700s. The decline of fur seal and sea otter populations led the way for fur farming in the 1800s, with numerous farms operating throughout Southeast Alaska. Efforts to reintroduce sea otters in the 1960s have created a robust population of over 25,000 sea otters in Southeast Alaska today. Under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, Alaska Natives are the only hunters allowed to legally harvest sea otters and to create and sell products made from their hides. To qualify, items must be significantly altered to make them no longer recognizable as a whole hide.

Christy Ruby is Tlingit Eagle from the Kéet Gooshi Hít (Killer Whale Dorsal Fin) House in Klukwan. The Killer Whale design on the vest represents her lineage. Ruby has been a professional marketer and branding artist since she was 16. She worked for private coin companies designing and sculpting over 200 medallions. Ruby began to work with sea mammal furs in 2010, starting with simple patterned purses and growing into award-winning apparel designs. Because there are limited teachers in her field, Ruby shares her knowledge of hunting and processing through demonstrations with the local Tribal Scholars program and mentoring young furriers.

The purchase was made possible through the generous support of the Rasmuson Foundation and Museums Alaska's Alaska Art Fund grant program, which allows museums around the state to purchase contemporary Alaskan art. The vest will be on display in the new special exhibit, On the Edge, opening March 1 at the Tongass Historical Museum.

Object ID #: 2023.2.82.1
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Dyed sea otter fur vest, Dyed sea otter fur vest, "DaKl'aweidi" made by Christy Ruby, 2023.