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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Puffin Beaks Replicated For Alaska Native Parka
by Brian Fraley - Alutiiq Museum
credits: photos courtesy of Alutiiq Museum
Replica puffin beaks created by three-dimensional printing.

A twenty-first century technology has helped a group of skin sewers achieve a dream, the creation of a traditionally styled caribou-skin parka. A team of seamstresses supported by Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum spent the past two years developing this garment. Their aim was to revitalize ancestral sewing arts while creating a parka for their tribal cultural center. The final step was to add decorative elements. Inspired the intricate handwork of an ancestral parka, they appliquéd, embroidered, fringed, and tasseled the modern garment, but they were not able to add puffin beaks.

Puffins, chubby seabirds with large colorful beaks, are common residents of the Kodiak Archipelago. For millennia, Kodiak’s Native residents harvested these birds for food and material. Puffin beaks were commonly suspended from Alutiiq clothing for decoration and to honor the close ties between people and birds. Today, however, the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 protects puffins and their parts.

Hanna School wears a Caribou Skin Parka she helped to construct as a member of Kodiak Alutiiq New Sewers Club, with Cathy Cordry, Teri Schneider, Marya Halvorsen, and Susan Malutin.

To complete their vision, the sewers turned to three-dimensional printing. Master skin sewer and group leader Susan Malutin worked with Kodiak High School technology teacher Barry Altenhof to create a set of faux beaks. Using an image of a beak and ABS plastic, three-dimensional printers built twenty-four replicas for use on the parka. Three volunteers then painted the beaks, which have been tied to the elaborate, hand-stitched garment. The result is a masterpiece of modern skin sewing and a fusion of ancient and modern technologies.

Production of the caribou skin garment was supported by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and contributions from the Fulford Family, Kodiak Island Borough School District Enliven Program, Port Lions Tribal Council, Larsen Bay Tribal Council, Kodiak Island Housing Authority, Dr. Gordon Pullar, Native Village of Afognak, and the Alutiiq Heritage Foundation.

The Alutiiq Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the cultural traditions of the Alutiiq, an Alaska Native tribal people. Representatives of Kodiak Alutiiq organizations govern the museum with funding from charitable contributions, memberships, grants, contracts, and sales.

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