Heiltsuk / Toquaht weaver Charlotte Carpenter was born in Bella Bella, BC. She relocated to Port Alberni when she married into Toquaht Nation, and it was at this time that she became intrigued with the baskets that Emma and Mary McKay would weave. She was soon learning how to harvest bear and sedge grass, which is a lengthy process that involves cutting, bleaching it in the sun, before dying, storing – and finally weaving.
After 40 years of experimenting with grasses and learning designs that she inherited from her teachers and family members, Carpenter is now a master weaver and teacher of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth weaving. Her teachers include Emma and Mary McKay of Toquaht, Mable Taylor of Tsheshaht, and Jenny Cootes and Amelia David of
Basket collectors marvel at Carpenters brilliant designs, vibrant colors, and her ability to weave very fine stitches, on baskets that are started with only 8 pieces of bear grass, as opposed to the thick mats that are often seen today. As it is more time consuming to start a basket with a spiral base, these special and rare baskets fetch a much higher price.
Carpenter has used traditional red cedar molds, passed down to her by family members, but also weaves on bottles, shells and Japanese Floats. She is also a master cedar weaver, another textile that is utilized widely, up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast.
We have several pieces by Charlotte Carpenter in our collection, and are always happy to custom order pieces if you are seeking something specific.
Whaler Hat Earrings by Charlotte Carpenter
Whaler hats are a significant part of Nuu-chah-nulth & Makah tradition, as they represent the Chiefs and the most dangerous hunt that took place on the Pacific Northwest Coast - being the whale hunt. The Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah, who are linked through family ties and language, were proficient whale hunters, and in fact were the only tribes on the coast who actively hunted whales out at sea.
Whaler hats were wrongly named "Maquinna Hats" for many years by outsiders who didn't understand that the hats were not just worn by Chief Maquinna, but by Chiefs who were Whalers. The 'Maquinna' name came about due to Explorers noting the unusual hat worn by Chief Maquinna when they first encountered the Nuu-chah-nulth.
Making a whaler hat is a lengthy and arduous task that involves harvesting cedar trees for bark in the spring after the saps begin to run. Once the bark has been stripped into long, even strips, the weaving can commence. Weavers combine cedar bark with sedge grasses and black swamp grass to weave intricate and beautiful designs into the hats, most often depicting canoes with whales in pursuit of grey whales. The tops of the hats are shaped like an unpeeled onion, and are hollow on the inside. Some Nuu-chah-nulth say the inside was hollow in order to place eagle down, which is considered very sacred among coastal groups.