O. Patricia Lekanoff-Gregory is Aleut, born and raised in Unalaska, Alaska. She had the opportunity to not only learn firsthand about her heritage from Elders but she was able to practice many of the skills traditions of her people as well. Mrs. Lekanoff-Gregory was a student of many master artists, including Anfesia Shapsnikoff, Sophie Pletnikoff, Agnes Thompson, William Tcheripanoff, Agafangel Stepetin, June Simeonoff, Barbara Carlson and Ray Hudson.
Patricia focused her attention on bentwood visors after learning from Master Aleut Hat maker the late Andrew Gronholdt in 1989. Shortly before his death, on his last trip to Unalaska in 1998, Mr. Gronholdt told “Pat” Gregory: “You need to start teaching this art, as I am not coming back.” Today, Mrs. Gregory has kept her promise and teaches hat making in Unalaska, Akutan, Kodiak, Anchorage, Sand Point, the Pacific Northwest, aboard the Alaska Marine Highway ferry vessels and in several Aleut culture camps. Today, she is considered a Master artist herself with expertise in Aleut bentwood hat making.
She travels to various museums to study examples of 19th century hats. Gregory uses a variety of wood, from the traditional yellow cedar to tulip poplar, Sitka spruce, and cottonwood. She uses for the most part acrylic paints and decorates her hats with sea lion whiskers. When these are not available, she makes whisker-like fibers using monofilament line. The elaborate closed-crown helmet now serves as a symbol of Aleut identity. Technically, the hats are called bentwood headgear; popularly hunting hats, although only one (and the simplest) type was worn in ordinary hunting. Other Alaskans, too, had bentwood headgear, but nowhere did the custom become so highly elaborated as among the Aleuts. Without Patty’s commitment and tireless effort to carry on this tradition this part of the Aleut culture would have disappeared.
Mrs. Lekanoff-Gregory states, “Learning is an on‐going process and continues even when I am instructing. I have a demonstrated ability to work with various age groups and a diversity of people. While I consider myself primarily an Aleut, I also have direct Russian ancestry of which I am very proud of. These two cultures have combined as one to make the present‐day Aleut. Returning to Russia, the birthplace of my great‐great‐grandparents, coupled with an opportunity to instruct my distant cousins in the lost Aleut crafts and skills was a dream accomplished in 1993, 2002 and 2007. To continue the teaching of my Aleut crafts, culture, heritage and language, as well as constant learning will be cherished forever by this artist.”