By KATE POSS
Special to the News-Times
Honoring the spirit of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Aug. 9, South Whidbey Tilth hosted a community potluck.
The General Assembly of the United Nations officially created the remembrance day in 1994 to protect the rights and raise awareness of indigenous people worldwide.
To celebrate its connection to the land and community, Susan Prescott, president of South Whidbey Tilth, invited Whidbey artist Doe Stahr to “dress” the event for the second year with her indigenous-inspired textiles.
Stahr, whose wall-sized textiles and table coverings invoke a sense of deep connection to native folk cultures, rents her traveling collection of more than 350 pieces for events that bring people together. Practicing her craft for more than 20 years, Stahr’s art is installed at conferences mainly in Western Washington, as well as for tribal gatherings.
“Elders tell me of deep memories welling up as they trace with a fingertip the lines of ancient patterns,” Stahr notes on her website. “I am trained in the method of making regalia, and this has become my intent with the collection, to treat each piece as regalia for the room.”
For the Tilth event, Stahr’s textiles will be vertical and horizontal. She plans on creating an “all art shade shelter.”
The artist, who was once married to a T’lingit culture bearer from Sitka, Alaska, observes cultural protocol in that she honors indigenous art and respects the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. The federal law “prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian art and craft products within the United States.”
“I am not Native born; however, I have a T’lingit name,” Doe said. “I was formally adopted in 1996. It is a privilege and an obligation to serve our regional tribes.”
Given the name T’saawkaawkw of the Dakleweidee, killer whale clan, and adopted Aug. 31, 1996 in Haines, Alaska, Stahr has since moved to South Whidbey and began to paint and craft art depicting Native American and other cultural influences.
It is Stahr’s intention to create a gracious space with her art amid these turbulent times.
“How do you create a safe space where people can gather?” Stahr asked. “These are the days we live day to day. We must hold on to our self-esteem. Our dignity. Central to being indigenous anywhere is connection to the land. Tilth is all about feeding our connection to the land and each other as well as our appetites. They’ve done so much there as a community that one person couldn’t have done.”
Now that public gatherings are permitted in the wake of COVID, Stahr and her traveling textile art is back in demand. Her art was part of an interracial Aztec wedding last month. Earlier, her textiles formed the backdrop for a March fundraiser with Landesa, a global development nonprofit that secures land rights for the world’s poor.
Bob Ferguson, the state attorney general, hosts an annual fundraiser each December. His staff contacted Stahr and asked that she dress the Dec. 8 event, which will host about 1,000 people at the Seattle Convention Center. Her art decorated the event in 2019.
“I approached them initially because I’d been seeing what Bob Ferguson’s office had been doing in defending immigrants’ rights in the wake of Trump’s ban on travel,” Stahr said. “I said I’d like to bring the essence of these people’s cultures to represent their event. They called and invited me this time.”
Stahr recalled the keynote speaker in 2019 was Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Sharp spoke about challenging those who seek to erase Native Americans’ sovereignty. Afterwards, Stahr was surprised to see many of the dignified and well-dressed people comment about her art.
“It can be intimidating to be around these people of power,” she said, laughing at the memory. “It was fun to see them get giddy about the art.”
Locally, Stahr’s textiles took top prizes at the Whidbey Island Fair. Her piece, “Egypt, Life Everlasting,” for instance, celebrated the memory of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist who was assassinated in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government.
“There’s nothing specific to him in the piece,” Stahr said. “The symbols I used were from the indigenous art of the Nile. The lotus and papyrus and the dung beetle images are all in their mythologies, representing how life continually renews spontaneously. I think about the idea that they were something to place faith in. It is not so true now, as we take our toll on the environment.”
Another piece, “Floral Reconstruction,” gives homage to the women of Ukraine and the floral crowns they wear for festivals.
Meanwhile, Stahr said people approach her after viewing her pieces and say they are moved in an unexplainable way by it.
“They ask me what they are sensing,” Stahr noted. “I’ll say, ‘You’re sitting at the same table where a tribal summit sat. Or an Aztec ceremony.’ The cloths are witnesses to the events they were at. There’s an energy imprint that happens. That’s why I’m choosy about where I have my art.”
To learn more about the South Whidbey Tilth Community annual potluck, picnic, raffle and auction, visit southwhidbeytilth.org.