Teri Rofkar

 

Teri Rofkar

Tlingit weaver Teri Rofkar walked into the forest in the early morning hours of Dec. 2, 2016, from cancer. She was 60.

A celebration of her life is planned at 1 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Odess Theater on the campus of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Those wishing to add to an online memorial or simply view photos may do so at this web address: http://www.forevermissed.com/teri-m-rofkar.

Teresa May Rofkar was born Sept. 27, 1956, in San Rafael, Calif., the daughter of Bert and Marie Laws. She was a Tlingit daughter of Raven from the Snail House (T’ak deintaan), a clan originating in Lituya Bay, related closely to the Coho (L’uknax.adi) clan. She was the daughter of an Englishman from California and the granddaughter of Kaagwaantaan Wolf from Groundhog Bay. 

Teri lived in Sitka for 40 years.

She is survived by her husband Denny, children Erin, Paul and Graig, granddaughter Violet Harrison, and her mother, Marie Laws, all of Sitka; and her sister, Shelly Laws, and her family, all of Anchorage. These were her most valued relationships.

She was introduced to Tlingit weaving by her maternal grandmother, Eliza Moses Mork, when she was a child. She spent many summers in Pelican, fishing and playing in Lisianski Inlet. The fun of traditional gathering and exploring nature as a child continued to fuel her investigations of climate, geology and chemistry as an adult.

It was not until the 1980s that Teri became aware of the deep connections and significance of art in her life. She harvested and wove using Tlingit methods passed down for thousands of years, continuing in the pathway of her ancestors. Decades of weaving opened her eyes to the pure science and math that is embedded in Tlingit art. 

During her art career she was honored with numerous awards and recognition. The most recent and treasured were the honorary doctoral in fine arts conferred upon her by University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus in 2015; the Rasmuson Distinguished Artist award in 2013; and the National Endowment for the Arts Living Cultural Treasure honor in 2009.

Since 2003 she had pursued the science and art connection as an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, Pa.

Her goal was to continue researching and broadening awareness of traditional Tlingit art and science for the generations to come.

“Perhaps one of her great gifts and insights was to define this life and place and people as relationships rather than resources,” her family wrote. “Relationships with people and places requires thought and care rather than exploitation. Something truly sustainable.

“Thank you to all who have helped us along this journey.”

Friends and colleagues said she will be missed.

“I think Teri was an extremely innovative artist because she worked with traditional and non-traditional materials to communicate big ideas, sometimes complex and sometimes controversial ideas, in a nuanced way,” Sheldon Jackson Museum Curator Jacqueline Fernandez-Hamberg said in an email to the Sentinel. “Her Superman Series, for example, involved her weaving modern composition materials in traditional Tlingit regalia, and focused on the connections between art and science.”

Fernandez-Hamberg said what she found striking about Rofkar was “not just her generosity of knowledge but her generosity of spirit.”

“Many elders teach but Teri was always engaging and warm during the process,” Fernandez-Hamberg said. “When I was fairly new to Sitka, she invited me to participate in a field study she led for staff from National Museum of the American Indian. In later years, whenever she worked as an artist in residence at Sheldon Jackson Museum, she was always willing to answer any questions about our baskets – that’s just the kind of culture bearer she was.”

Fernandez-Hamberg said a favorite memory was when Rofkar worked with staff at the Sheldon Jackson Museum to bring robes she had woven from around the country to be worn by dancers during the UAS commencement celebration when she was awarded her honorary doctorate.

“I never saw her so happy,” Fernandez-Hamberg said.

Kelsey Lutz, curator at Sitka National Historical Park, worked with Rofkar the last three years in several capacities.

“I feel like we’ve lost somebody who was so kind, not just kind as a person, but generous with her knowledge,” she said.

Rofkar was a demonstration artist at the park, and provided pieces for exhibit as well as cultural information, Lutz said.

“To begin with, few people have that knowledge, but she seemed to have no boundaries with who she shared it with – it’s wanting people to understand and learn,” Lutz said. “That’s what was so great about her: she was generous with her knowledge.”

Diane Kaplan, executive director of the Rasmuson Foundation, commented: “Alaska and the world lost a beautiful soul. Teri Rofkar was an influential, accomplished indigenous artist as well as one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met.”

The National Endowment for the Arts cited her contributions as well, and forwarded Rofkar’s comments from a 2009 interview:

 

“I’m hoping that the pieces that I create are the teachers,” Rofkar told the NEA. “They’ll be looking at them, you know, 200 years from now, ‘Ah, this is what they were doing.’ And I think for me our artwork has such an essence of place. It’s such a reflection of just a dynamic kind of lifestyle but the huge land, the glaciers, the animals, the ocean, it’s so strong and powerful up here. The art has to equally be so strong and powerful.”

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