Artist Spotlight – Marlene Smith

Alaska Native artist Marlene Smith of Kotzebue, Ak

I remember sewing doll clothes and quilts as a small child. I have always loved making things by hand. To this day I prefer to hand sew a quilt vs machine. My dad always said I was born to the wrong generation.

My mother taught me to sew, knit and crochet. I used to be so amazed watching her construct a hunting jacket with no pattern, just start cutting it out. I also remember making Ice worms out of her fur scraps.  I took a Home Ec. Class in high school and learned more about constructing clothing and using patterns. I did not start sewing with fur until about 30+ years ago. I got some patterns from Lucy Stalker and Zona Lie and made my own mukluk patterns for my children and grandchildren. I also took a couple of classes at the local college to increase my knowledge of mukluk, hat, mitten, yoyo and kupak (decorations for parkas) construction. Each of the ladies that taught the class had their own unique style and way of constructing, pattern making, and I learned so much from them.

I remember making my daughter a pair of purple mukluks out of mouton when she was little because that was all the fur/leather I had available at that time. She loved them and wore them until they fell apart.

I enjoy working with different types of fur and leather/suede. I sew with calfskin, mouton, beaver, fox, badger, martin, sea otter, pretty much what I can get my hands on. Sewing is the place I go to wind down after a long day of work. Sometimes it takes me longer to choose the material than make the project.  I especially enjoy teaching new people how to sew. To see them complete a project that they did not think they could even start. I especially enjoy sitting with a group of people and just working on items and talking/telling stories.

I would like to work more with sealskin and making hard bottoms for mukluks. I made 100 items before I cut into my sealskin, and it was hard for me to actually cut the sealskin when the time came as it is so precious to me.

I enjoy watching people wearing the items I have made as I know they are warm and well made. I am perfecting the Ahna stitch (small even stitches).

It is kinda funny, but I still consider myself as not an expert sewer yet. I have much to learn including beading, making parka ruffs, making hard bottom mukluks, and the ultimate would be to make a “fancy parka”. I also would like to learn to make more of my own patterns and to work on increasing my pattern collection.