Native art blankets on campus benefit scholarship fund

They’re popping up everywhere.

There’s one in the Commons across from the fireplace. There’s another in the honors department. And in the Native Students Services inside the Rasmuson Hall, they are spread throughout the space.

They’re Pendleton wool blankets, designed by top Native designers and sold by three of Alaska’s largest Native corporations.

Willy Templeton, the director of NSS, said the original idea for the limited-edition fundraiser blankets started with the American Indian College Fund.

Blankets had always been highly valued among Native American cultures, particularly for trade and gifting, in the lower 48 states and Southeast Alaska. So the fund expanded upon this theme, and had some blankets made and sold them, holding back some of the purchase price for scholarships.

Templeton said about nine years ago, two Alaska Native corporations started producing their own blankets. The Doyon Foundation, part of a Fairbanks corporation, produced a series of four, and Sealaska Heritage Institute, part of a corporation from Southeast Alaska, produced one.

While many of the blankets from tribes in the lower 48 states are based upon traditional designs, the Alaska Corporations had prominent artists create contemporary designs for theirs.

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It was a gift from Doyon that began NSS’s collection of blankets.

“We felt it softened the wall,” Templeton said. “So we went ahead and bought the set.”

NSS also has Sealaska’s blanket, “Blanket of Knowledge,” and CIRI’s blanket which was produced later. NSS donated two blankets to hang elsewhere on campus as well – one in the Commons and one in the honors department.

“We tried to get a Native presence around campus,” Templeton said. “We want them to be welcoming.”

While the American Indian College Fund’s flagship program was specifically designed for scholarship fundraising, the Alaska corporations’ blankets fund operations.

“Everything we sell here goes towards operations, including scholarship funds,” said Donald Gregory, an administrative assistant at Sealaska.

Templeton said the commemorative Pendleton blankets (and their Canadian made counterparts, Hudson blankets) have become very popular in the rest of the U.S.

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian has joined the blanket trend, designing and producing two of its own Pendleton blankets. The museum is releasing a third blanket, called “Identity by Design,” in March.

“It was created in celebration of the exhibition ‘Identity by Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses,'” said Amy Drapeau, a public affairs specialist at the museum. “For generations, Native women from the plains, plateau, and great basin regions of the United States and Canada have made dresses renowned for their beauty.”

The museum has several wool blankets in their permanent collection, ranging from artifacts from the late 1800s to the contemporary Pendleton designs.

Pat Niefeld, collections manager at the museum, said they had many blankets but none from Alaska.

“We only have two Arctic Pendletons in the collection, both from Nunavut (Canada),” Niefeld said.

NSS doesn’t have any blankets from out-of-state yet, including the Smithsonian ones, but Templeton hopes to include them in the collection at some point. He also plans to purchase new releases from Alaska corporations as they become available.

“We’re creating an archive, in a way,” Templeton said.

The blankets retail for about $200, or more if they are signed and numbered. The American Indian College Fund donates $50 from each blanket sale to its scholarship fund.