Matilpi, Maxine

Maxine Matilpi

Maxine Matilpi 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 Matilpi has dedicated her talents to her people in order that their traditional culture remains vibrant and strong.

Maxine was encouraged to assist her mother with blanket making projects as a child. Her first job was to sort buttons by size. She later graduated to tasks that are more complex, such as cutting the appliqué designs and border trim from red cloth. She has created nearly one hundred ceremonial items in fabric; these include button blankets, dance aprons, vests and tunics. Her first choice of base material for a ceremonial robe is melton cloth, a material both lighter and more dense than the navy or green woollen Hudson’s Bay Company blankets used by her grandmother’s generation. Almost unique among contemporary aboriginal fabric artists is her use of stroud, an old woollen trade cloth, as her appliqué material. The main crest figures on her blankets were designed by her partner, John Livingston, an artist who has mastered both the two dimensional and sculptural forms of Northwest coast art. The border designs defined with buttons are Maxine’s own creation, and include solid triangles that symbolize mountains, and sinuous compositions incorporating vines, leaves and flowers.

Maxin Matilpi has favourite and recurring images. A butterfly usually 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 and a butterfly landed on his head. Since that time the butterfly has come to represent 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 Eagle Copper blanket used in that ceremony was displayed in the 2001 “Masks and Myths” exhibit at Canada House in Banff.

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