Button Blanket Panel by Ron LaRochelle (1949-2020), Haida
Button Blanket Panel depicting Double Raven and Killer Whale with Human, 1998 by Ron LaRochelle (1949-2020), Haida wool, wool appliqué, abalone buttons 80" tall x 37.5" wide * pocket sewn at top for a dowel for hanging
The button blanket, which came into use after European contact, has now become the most popular piece of contemporary feast attire among the people of the Northwest Coast of Canada and Alaska. At first, family crest designs including raven, killer whale, eagle, or wolf, decorated with dentalium shells, were sewn onto wool blankets acquired from maritime fur traders and later the Hudson's Bay company.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the favored blanket was made of blue duffle, with the designs appliquéd in red stroud. Squares of abalone shell were sewn to the eyes and joints of the crest figures to reflect bits of light as the wearer danced around a fire. When pearl buttons obtained from fur traders came into use, they proliferated onto the form lines. Today, buttons are sometimes used to fill entire zones of the design elements and even the whole field of the background.
A modern potlatch can bring forward a hundred or more button blankets from the participants. At a traditional naming ceremony, it is now considered essential to present the recipient with a special blanket decorated with a family crest. A century after the button blanket was first developed, it has become a symbol of social and artistic rebirth among the Haida.
Haida artist Ron LaRochelle was born in Masset, Haida Gwaii. His family crest is Raven. Ron spent many hours watching Haida craftsmen as he grew up on the island and was proud to be able to continue a long history of Haida culture. He acknowledged the influence of Robert and Claude Davidson in his design. Ron trained with Clarence Wells for 28 years in cutting and printing t-shirts and prints. Ron had over 25 years of experience in appliquéd clothing and design work as well as the production of button blankets and ceremonial regalia.