Nancy Burgess, Artist-in-Residence
Argosy Cruises Team Member since 2014
Current Department: Tillicum Excursion
Hometown: Burien, Washington
At our Tillicum Excursion on Blake Island, there are many Northwest Coast Native American experiences that draw our guests to sail with us: the journey to the island itself, the totems and another carvings on the grounds, the Coast Salish storytelling and dancing, and, of course, the alder fire roasted fish! But one feature of the excursion that not many guests know about ahead of time is our artist-in-residence, Nancy Burgess.
Nancy is our weaver, and she specializes in weaving in the traditional Haida style. She herself is of the Dakota and Grand Ronde tribes of Montana, but married a Haida member and has been adopted into their tribe. She’s tremendously engaging, drawing guests in to experience her craft with all their senses, and no one leaves a conversation with Nancy without a big smile on their face. We’re excited to share her with you!
How did you with your Midwest roots end up out here in Seattle?
My mother was from the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana, and she was in junior college in North Dakota when she was offered a job at Boeing out here. While at Boeing she met my father. They were married soon after and went on to have eight kids!
My parents were transplants and they made lots of friends while we were living in Seattle. One of my mother’s best friends was Charlotte Fenton (or Lottie as we called her) now an Elder from the Suquamish tribe. When I was younger, my family would go to her house to visit and she would cook all these fish dishes for us. She was also a weaver. Lottie never said, “Don’t touch that!” She always let us play with her stuff and explore it. Hers was a different style than what I do now, but really, I’ve always been around the craft.
Have you always been weaving, or did you explore other types of art at school or during your career?
In college I tried all kinds of art…and failed, miserably. [laughs] I just don’t have that kind of imagination! I need a traditional art, where there are rules to follow. Like tapestry or tatting or embroidery. I need rules! You give me some paint and a canvas and I won’t know what to do.
How did you come to learn the Haida style of weaving?
I met my husband in college — he was going to school to be a seafood quality technician because his family had their own fishing boat. When he would go up to Alaska for the fishing business I’d go up, too, for fun. (My dad had a dream to go up to Alaska and sell fruit to the Natives.) I was a fisherwoman up there for a while, and a nanny for my sister-in-law in the off-season. It was my husband’s sister who offered to teach me how to weave.
How did your artwork become your profession?
Now in the wintertime up in Alaska I couldn’t handle it. It was too cold! That’s when I’d want to come and visit my family, so we’d come down in the winter after the fishing season was over. On the trips between Ketchikan and Washington I would work on whatever I was weaving at the time, and my husband would tell stories. He was raised by his grandparents, who taught him o-o-o-l-d stories. about hunting and fishing, how to track animals, what to gather and when.
On those ferry trips to and from Alaska, we met a lot of Elders who would see me weaving, and they were so encouraging. Many of their own woven pieces, like ceremonial chief’s hats and baskets, were hundreds of years old. They wished someone would create new things! I still do new versions of those traditional pieces, but they can take a long time to create. Lately I’ve been going more off the wall: cedar roses, bracelets, tiny basket earrings. Even a men’s wedding ring.
As the Tillicum Excursion’s artist-in-residence, how does your weaving tie into the guest experience here?
I have a station outside the dining room where I work while I’m at Tillicum. I’ll be working on a project that may be for sale later in the gift shop, and I’m here to answer questions. I love to talk!
What do you like to do around Seattle when you have free time?
I LOVE beachcombing. It’s one of my favorite things to do — you just never know what you’re gonna find! And I also do it because I’m looking for new materials to work with, like beach grass, or maidenhair ferns for embellishment work.
Here’s Nancy in action on a recent Tillicum Excursion trip: