Mabel Pike: Portrait of a 91-Year-Old Moccasin Maker
What ancient beadwork has to do with the blessings of the digital age.
By Maria Popova
91-year-old Tlingit Native elder Mabel Pike learned beading when she was six and her great-grandmother taught her how to sew moccasins in the 1920s. In 1926, after their village in Douglas, Alaska burned down, Mabel’s parents moved the family to Juneau, where Mabel and her sisters began making and selling handcrafted Native wares. Mabel eventually became a Tlingit master artist, going on to teach beadwork at Stanford and pass on the traditions of her clan’s culture.
In this lovely video portrait, part of Etsy’s Handmade Portraits series, Mabel talks about the traditional patterns of her culture, her deep passion for her craft and everything it stands for, and her hate for the word “abstract.” It exudes the same kind of bittersweet poeticism you might recall from these 7 short documentaries about dying crafts, but it’s also lined with Mabel’s steady, quiet optimism.
When I finish a pair of moccasins, I sure hate to part with them. I’m not in this for money-making. I do my sewing because that’s my life, it’s always been my life, from the day I was six years old.” ~ Mabel Pike
I just lose myself in my sewing. I don’t know how to describe it. You know, when I start beading, it’s like I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing, I forget everything. I’m sewing, and I’m creating, and I’m designing. And I just don’t know how to describe it. I just lose myself in it.” ~ Mabel Pike
The way Mabel describes her work — this state of total engagement, of complete immersion — encapsulates the state renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as “flow,” the true mark of creativity in action.
For your daily pause moment: It’s utterly remarkable that we live in an age when online platforms like Vimeo and Etsy and Twitter and WordPress are allowing us to not only learn about the fascinating cultural heritage of ancient traditions, but to also actively support these indigenous artists in ways that would’ve never been possible a mere decade ago.
To support Mabel’s work and that of other indigenous artists, do visit Alaksa Native Arts Foundation’s online shop.
Published May 2, 2011