Maxine Matilpi

Kwakwaka'wakw

Maxine Matilpi (b. 1956) was born in Alert Bay. She spent her early life in her home village of Kalugwis, located in the very centre of Kwakwaka'wakw territory. Here she learned her first language, Kwakwala, and was formally trained and educated in many aspects of traditional culture. Maxine has dedicated her talents to her people in order that their traditional culture remains vibrant and strong.

As a child, Maxine was encouraged to assist her mother with blanket making projects. Her first job was to sort buttons by size. She later graduated to more complex tasks such as cutting the appliqué designs and border trim from red cloth. She has created nearly one hundred ceremonial items in fabric which include button blankets, dance aprons, vests and tunics.

Maxine's first choice of material for the bases for a ceremonial robe in molten cloth which is both denser and lighter that the navy or green woolen Hudson's Bay Company blankets which her mother's generation used. Almost unique among contemporary aboriginal fabric artists is her use of stroud, and old woolen trade cloth, as her appliqué material. The main crest figures on her blankets are designed by her partner, John Livingston, an artist who has mastered both the two-dimensional and sculptural forms of the Northwest Coast art. The border designs defined with buttons are of her own creation and include solid triangles, which symbolize mountains, and sinuous compositions incorporating vines, leaves and flowers.

One of Maxine's favourite and recurring images is that of a butterfly; it appears both on border designs and as the primary figure on blankets and aprons. It represents an important family crest. It is said that long ago when the world was young, an old man emerged from under the sea. A butterfly landed on his head and since then it has come to symbolize the ancient lineage from which Maxine's family descended.

Other significant crests depicted on her costumes are the Kolus, a mythic bird said to be the younger brother of Thunderbird, the Raven, Wolf and Whale, all of which figure prominently in Maxine's family history. These images are jealously guarded family privileges and are properly displayed only in a ceremonial context.

In 1995, Maxine completed a suite of blankets, aprons and tunics to be worn by family members at a memorial potlatch. The blanket displayed in this exhibit was used in that ceremony.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

1996 Button Blankets of the Kwakwaka'wakw, Maxine Matilpi,Gallery Sud, Magedeburg, Germany

1997 Button Blankets of the Kwakwaka'wakw, Maxine Matilpi, Sparkasse, Lahr, Germany

Maxine Matilpi and Tom hunt exhibition, City of Frankfurt, Ethnographic Museum, Germany

1999 Tribal Miniatures '99, annual exhibition, Alcheringa Gallery, Victoria, BC

2000 Tribal Miniatures '00, annual exhibition, Alcheringa Gallery, Victoria, BC

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