Medium: Skin Sewing
Twenty-two years ago, Susan Malutin began working with animals skins when her husband Roger came home with a sea otter pelt and requested a hat. Since that first garment, Susie has worked diligently to learn the art of skin sewing and to uncover, reawaken, and share Alutiiq sewing traditions.
A life-long member of the Kodiak community, Susan Malutin is from Alutiiq families with roots in Afognak and Ukamok (Chirikof Island) villages. A sewer from youth, Susan began her exploration of skin working as an adult. Her husband’s subsistence activities provided access to Kodiak’s rich furs, which she found she could work into warm, durable clothing. Enticed by the success of her own sewing experiments, Susie began searching for information on ancestral skin sewing. She wanted to understand how her great grandmothers had worked skins, to fold the knowledge of past generation into her garments.
As Kodiak’s profoundly disruptive period of Western colonization resulted in the suppression of Alutiiq arts, there were no skin sewers left with whom Susie could apprentice. To learn skin sewing she had to become resourceful. Susie talked to Alutiiq Elders who remembered their mother’s work. She found old garments and took them apart to study pattern work and stitching. She met with furriers and tanners to learn their secrets. She sought out skin sewers from neighboring Native cultures – Yup’ik ladies who could teach her waterproof stitching and explain how to cure fish skins. She studied Alutiiq clothing in museum collections, traveling to the Smithsonian to turn 120-year-old garments inside out and listen for the voices of Alutiiq seamstresses to speak through their seams, choices of material, and delicate embroidery. And she experimented.
The results of Susie’s personal study have been remarkable. She has become a master skin sewer. Her creations are now sold across Alaska through her business – Heritage Furs, and widely displayed in both Kodiak and Anchorage. She has received grants and commissions to create gut skin garments, design Alutiiq parkas, dance belts and jewelry, and create traditional style hats, boots, mittens, and pouches - with the exquisite array of skins, bangles, delicate beading, and intricate embroidery indicative of Alutiiq clothing. Her work has been featured in exhibits and added to museum collections. Susie has reawakened Kodiak Alutiiq skin sewing and continues to fashion lasting works art that excite others to explore and interpret Alutiiq traditions. The Alaska Federation of Natives recognized her efforts with the 2003 president’s award for tradition bearer. And in 2006, she won the Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Alaska Native Arts - one of the Governor's Awards for the Arts.
Artist Contact InformationAddress:
P.O. Box 2846
Kodiak, AK 99615