September 19, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 38

Tlingit craftsman gives TED talk in Petersburg

Tommy Joseph, master woodcarver and Tlingit artist, gave a Technology, Education and Design talk in the borough assembly chambers last Thursday. Joseph talked about his experiences traveling the world learning about Tlingit battledress and how he incorporated that knowledge into pieces he crafted called “Rainforest Warriors” that are in display at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.

Kyle Clayton / Petersburg Pilot
Tommy Joseph presenting a TED talk about Tlingit battledress in Assembly Chambers last week.

His work was inspired in 2004 while researching the battledress used during 1804’s Battle of Sitka that pitted the Russians against Tlingit warriors.

“I wasn’t satisfied with what I found in the books and there wasn’t a whole lot online then,” Joseph said.

Joseph won a fellowship to travel to museums around the world and explore various collections. He also traveled to Smithsonian Museums around the US and museums in England, France and Russia.

Joseph showed the audience photos of shark and raven helmets, war clubs, wooden slat armor and other items. And he’s spent a lot of time reproducing those works.

“Not everybody was a carver,” Joseph said. “The warriors that wore these pieces, they didn’t belong to the warrior. They were kept stowed away. When they were called to go to battle for whatever reason they were pulled out by the elders and given, I believe, to the more skilled warriors.”

Carving and creating armor was a long process. For instance, the wooden slat armor was traditionally made with deer or moose sinew. Joseph reproduced one that took 450 yards of cordage made from the sinew.

“I would spend about two hours each evening splitting it…and I would get 11 yards,” Joseph said.

Joseph also built and recently preserved the two totem poles in town.

The Petersburg Indian Association, the Petersburg Public Library and the Institute sponsored the event for Museum and Library Services.

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