March 11, 2016–Mabel Pike, Tlingit Artist
Years and years ago, as I was having my first inklings I wanted to be a writer, I interviewed Mabel Pike for a story I was working on. Though I’ve lost my notes from that day, and I don’t remember the story, or who I was writing it for, I do remember clearly sitting across the table from Pike at Village Inn in Anchorage, drinking coffee and eating pecan pie.
I remember thinking: I am sitting across from one of the most amazing human beings I will ever meet. She is Alaska! If Alaska were a person who could sit in a booth eating pecan pie, while smiling and softly laughing and telling me a story about a girl who swallowed a spruce needle.
Pike was a Master Tlingit Artist, known for her beadwork and for her teaching. She was born in Douglas, Alaska in 1920 into the Gaanaxteidi Whale House of Klukwan; Sayak being her Tlingit name; of the raven moiety with the woodworm being one of the main crests.
She spent her early years in Juneau, where her grandmother taught her to sew. At the age of 6 she sewed a beaded pattern on her first pair of moccasins. From then on, she was hooked and began beading the motifs of her clan as well as her own designs. As Pike said, she was happiest when she was beading and surrounded by family and friends.
She and her husband Joe lived in Tanana and Bethel in the 1960s before moving to Anchorage. She soon became involved in Native activities in her new community. She founded the TAHETA Arts and Cultural Group in downtown Anchorage and also founded the Fur Rondy Arts and Crafts fair where she was a faithful exhibitor.
Though mostly known for her beading, Pike also volunteered for the AK Public Radio Network, Indigenous Broadcast Company as well as KNBA Radio and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where she interpreted English into Tlingit and also shared Tlingit stories.
She taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage, at the Anchorage Museum, in Kodiak, Chenaga, Togiak, Edna Bay. She was involved in the planning, fundraising and opening of the Alaska Native Heritage Center. After it opened in 1987, she taught beading workshops, conducted beading demonstrations and served as a long-time board member.
Pike passed away in March of 2012, at the age of 92.
In 2011, ETSY produced this short documentary film about Pike and her sewing. Do yourself a favor and watch it. A woman pulling thread through cloth is at the core of what makes us human, what makes us good and strong. Aren’t we lucky–those of us who got to meet her briefly, or bought her creations, those of us who loved her and knew her best–aren’t we lucky Mabel Pike shared so much with us?