In Salish cultures, weaving techniques have been passed down matriarchal lines for millennia. Woven wool blankets were highly valued objects, often worn as robes and used for both ceremonial and practical purposes. However, by the early 20th century, colonial suppression of Indigenous cultural traditions and the increased availability of machine-woven blankets meant that these traditional weaving practices were not passed down.
In the late 20th century, there was a revival of these traditional practices by several groups who sought to reclaim generations of lost knowledge. One example is the Musqueam Weavers, spearheaded by Wendy Grant-John. “The Musqueam Weavers gathered in 1984 to help our community preserve our traditional art form. Weaving was very important for our culture and for the women in our community,” explains Leila Stogan, who was a member of the group.
Through studying examples of older weavings and consulting with Elders, the Musqueam Weavers began to revive Salish weaving traditions. The women learned traditional techniques such as the use of two-bar looms and spinning wool on spindles. They helped revitalize weaving traditions, ensuring they would be preserved for generations to come. Recent exhibitions such as MOA’s The Fabric of Our Land (November 2017 – April 2018) have helped share the legacy of Salish weaving more broadly, and the cultural knowledge embedded in these traditions.
Looking back on this time, Stogan says that she was “honoured to be part of this group of matriarchs from our community who were committed to saving our art.” The experience “was also a lot of fun and a memory that I will always cherish.”
Stogan’s work can also be found on permanent display in MOA’s Multiversity Galleries (MOA Collection Nbz859), and was also included in The Fabric of Our Land. Although her ancestors created weavings for both ceremonial and everyday purposes, Stogan contrasts this with her own current practice: “I mainly weave now for cultural reasons as this is my priority,” she says, although she has experimented with clothing items as well.
Now, her work has appeared in another part of the museum—the MOA Shop. Thanks to a collaboration with locally based company Native Northwest, two of Leila’s weaving designs are featured on a series of products, including woven blankets and scarves. Visions of Our Ancestors is traditional design that incorporates the geometric patterns found in many Musqueam weavings. Spirit of the Sky is the result of a collaboration with graphic designer Jenny Poon to combine four of Stogan’s existing designs into a new pattern.
The collaboration came about after Native Northwest’s team made a fortuitous visit to MOA, and discovered that Stogan, one of their employees, had work on display in The Fabric of Our Land. Once Stogan’s experience as a weaver and artist was made known, a design partnership was born. “Working with Leila was an honour and a delight. Leila brought in drawings, weavings, stories, perspectives and input into product development which allowed for a wonderful collaboration,” shares Larry Garfinkel of Native Northwest.
“Seeing my life’s work on the items that Native Northwest and I collaborated on gives me an overwhelming feeling of pride. I hope these products offer a look into Musqueam culture and let people know a bit about who we are,” says Stogan. For Garfinkel, the collaboration is an opportunity to “share Musqueam weaving patterns and encourage increased awareness of this rich cultural legacy as well as thriving art form.”
As MOA is located on traditional, ancestral and unceded Musqueam territory, many of MOA’s visitors are naturally curious to see works by contemporary Musqueam artists. Showcasing the work of Leila Stogan, among many others, throughout the Museum ensures that knowledge and appreciation of Musqueam weaving will continue to be shared.
Items from Leila Stogan’s Spirit of the Sky and Visions of Our Ancestors collections can be found at the MOA Shop.