Gloria Cunningham’s caribou and moose hide boots adorned with beaver fur and beaded flower trim graced the runway as model Kiley Burton walked across the stage.
Mary Babic’s seal skin vest was brought out and with a slow turn the intricate salmon- shaped beadwork, created by Lisa Marie Jacobs, sparkled in the stage lights. Audible “oohs and aahs” burst from the crowd.
Raven and eagle patterns were featured too throughout the Ilanka Membership Drive Dinner and Fashion Show on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
“Raven and eagle are the two moieties for the Eyak tribe and so that’s why they’re used in a lot of artwork around here,” said Diana Riedel, owner of Dineega Specialty Furs where she makes custom sea otter, harbor seal and sea lion fur clothing and art.
Riedel’s many pieces in the fashion show included moose hide gloves, a seal pendant necklace, seal mukluks, sea otter headbands and a sea lion wallet.
Her mother, Monica, modeled a lined seal parka adorned with sea otter fur and beaded seal trim.
Riedel learned from her mother from the age of 14 to create fur clothing. At 17, she had her own business license. For her high school graduation present, her parents gifted her a fur machine to take to college.
Riedel was born in Cordova and is part Athabaskan, Eyak, Aleut and Inupiaq. She works with different types of fur to create trapper hats, gloves, pillows, blankets, wallets, necklaces, teddy bears and slippers.
“We have a very healthy renewable resource here,” Riedel said. “It’s nice to get that out that it’s an option for the Native community to utilize. I think it’s easier for people here in town and in other small coastal communities to understand it,” she said. “I think they respect it because they see how healthy the population of these furs are here.”
Riedel said the marine mammals used in her designs, and others in the fashion show, have naturally waterproofing qualities and are great insulators when it comes to warm clothing.
“It’s not a commercialized fur industry,” she said. “It’s one where we use the whole species,” including the seal oil and the meat.
For the Riedels and other designers, this work is generational. Riedel learned skin sewing from her mother, just as her mother learned from her grandmother, Lizzy Semaken.
Today, Riedel is teaching her 12-year-old daughter, Kiley.
“It’s pretty cool for her to see that she can actually do this at her age,” Riedel said.
Mary Babic and her sister Peggy McDaniel collaborate on their clothing. “We started doing this years ago where we attended craft fairs together,” Babic said. “We started working together and having a table together and selling our items.”
Their fashion show creations included sea otter scarves with bead work, sea otter mittens, a seal skin bowtie and purse and a black fringe bag decorated with seal fur and bone beads.
“We grew up where there was a lot of artwork in our family so we tended to go that route,” she said. “When we moved here we wanted to learn more about our culture and our heritage.”
Babic, who was raised in Seattle, is Chugach and Aleut. Her mother was born and raised in Cordova.
“When I moved here, I worked with the tribe right away and worked with the elders and started learning the Chugach ways,” she said.
Her mother was a seamstress and worked with Monica Riedel, helping her with her sewing.
“Out of six of us, four of the six siblings moved back to Cordova and raised our families here,” Babic said.
During the fashion show, Babic worked behind stage with Jackie Ladd coordinating the models and their outfits.
Other local designers include Raven Madison, Sean O’Brien, Christine Belgarde, Jackie Ladd, Gloria Cunningham, Mark King, Danaya Hoover and Gunnar Davis.
The show also featured Items for sale from the Ilanka Cultural Center gift store including shawls and jewelry.
People roamed the teddy bear silent auction tables, stopping to look at each bear. The auction was a fundraiser for the Cordova Ikumat Dancers. The dinner featured local dishes of salmon, deer, dried seaweed, halibut, pickled fish, fry bread and more.
“It was a fun time to get together and share food,” Riedel said. “It is a big part of our culture.” Babic brought pirok, or fish pie, with Copper River salmon, white rice, onions, celery and peas.
The food brings back memories for Babic. She remembers visiting her grandmother who always had a “stainless steel, big bowl on her lap where she made bread probably every day.”
She remembered the small details of those visits and how her grandmother would add raisins to her bread. “Everybody always has fry bread,” she added laughing.
After the fashion show the Cordova Ikumat Dancers took the stage, dancing along the aisle as the sound of drums and applause echoed in the theatre.