Stitch by Stitch


Native American Art - - COLUMNS/FEATURES - By De­bra Utacia Krol

Con­tem­po­rary bas­ket artists con­tinue tra­di­tion.

To­day’s Na­tive bas­ket artists con­tinue a tra­di­tion that stretches back mil­len­nia. Stitch by stitch, these artists keep their cul­tures vi­brant while us­ing both time-hon­ored and 21st-cen­tury ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate pieces that tell sto­ries and en­chant col­lec­tors. Here are six artists, rang­ing from ac­knowl­edged mas­ters to tal­ented emerg­ing weavers and mak­ers.

Ganessa Frey (Penob­scot)

Say “Jeremy Frey” and every Na­tive bas­ket col­lec­tor’s eyes grow wide; how­ever, Jeremy’s wife, Ganessa (née Bryant), is also a force to be reck­oned with. In fact, Ganessa says she got se­ri­ous about mak­ing bas­kets af­ter meet­ing Jeremy, who’s also been one of her prin­ci­pal teach­ers and who makes her molds.

Ganessa is known for her minia­tures and what she calls “fruity” bas­kets, such as straw­ber­ries, pump­kins and, of course, pineap­ples. “It’s hard work for Jeremy to pro­vide black ash for the both of us,” she says. She also uses spruce root and por­cu­pine quills in her work, which is on dis­play at the Abbe Mu­seum in Bar Har­bor, Maine, and the Hud­son Mu­seum in Orono, Maine.

Al­though she’s been show­ing and sell­ing in Cen­tral Maine and Bar Har­bor for more than 10 years, Ganessa says she’s been stick­ing mostly to lo­cal shows un­til re­cently. The rea­son? “The kids were lit­tle.” But, now that the Frey fam­ily is com­plete—the cou­ple are the par­ents of sons Damien, 13, and Gavin, 9, and daugh­ter Harper, 1½— Ganessa is plan­ning to be at more mar­kets such as Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket.

Carol Emarthle-dou­glas (North­ern Ara­paho/semi­nole)

Al­though she didn’t grow up in a tra­di­tional North­ern Ara­paho or Semi­nole house­hold, Carol Emarthle-dou­glas is best known for her “tra­di­tion­alc-on­tem­po­rary” bas­kets. “Coil­ing is what I do,” she says, re­fer­ring to her mother’s tra­di­tional North­ern Ara­paho bas­ket style. But, the award-win­ning artist of­ten­times uses more di­verse ma­te­ri­als such as round reed, raffia, waxed linen thread, cedar and two species of deer grass, since she lives in Wash­ing­ton state. She’s even tried her hand at lauhala, the tra­di­tional Hawai­ian bas­ketry plant.

“It takes me a cou­ple of months to make a coiled bas­ket,” she says. But, creat­ing some of her most in­tri­cate bas­kets, such as her 2015 Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket Best of Show-award win­ning piece, Cul­tural Bur­dens, can take much longer. And, Emarth­le­dou­glas is still fond of some of her ear­lier works like Painted Ponies.

She gets ideas from many places, then sketches out a de­sign. “I try not to re­peat my­self too much,” Emarthle-dou­glas says, “but I do like mak­ing minia­tures. There’s more de­tail but it’s still coil­ing.

“I’m an artist,” she con­tin­ues. “Some peo­ple don’t think of bas­ketry as an art, but there is bas­ketry be­yond it.” And, she would like to see more bas­ketry artists at art shows.

Shan Goshorn (East­ern Band of Cherokee)

Ex­plor­ing is­sues im­por­tant to Na­tive peo­ple comes nat­u­rally to Shan Goshorn. The ac­claimed artist put her Cherokee weav­ing skills to work us­ing pa­per af­ter find­ing that two-di­men­sional pho­tog­ra­phy con­strained her abil­ity to en­gage the pub­lic. Goshorn uses pa­per rang­ing from le­gal doc­u­ments and pho­to­graphs to sig­na­tures of board­ing school sur­vivors to be­gin con­ver­sa­tions about “is­sues that con­tinue to be im­por­tant to the well-be­ing of Na­tive peo­ple,” she says. That in­cludes the wa­ter pro­tec­tor camp at Stand­ing Rock, which she says ties two treaties en­acted in 1851 and 1868 with for­mer Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe Chair­man David Ar­cham­bault’s speech to the United Na­tions. “It is the tie be­tween these his­toric doc­u­ments and the rel­e­vance they have on to­day’s is­sues that fas­ci­nates me the most,” Goshorn says.

Whether dis­cussing how state at­tempts to im­pose taxes on tribal en­ter­prises erodes sovereignty, the hor­rors of the In­dian board­ing school era, how sports mas­cots dis­honor Na­tive peo­ple, or, as her cur­rent project will ad­dress, the “heinous crimes and in­vis­i­bil­ity of Na­tive sis­ters via Mur­dered and Miss­ing In­dige­nous Women doc­u­ments,” Goshorn says, “I have found that bas­kets are the per­fect venue for in­ter­ac­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.” She con­sid­ers that bas­kets’ do­mes­tic­ity, their fa­mil­iar­ity, nur­tur­ing qual­i­ties or the col­ors and im­agery she weaves into them causes peo­ple to “lit­er­ally lean into the bas­kets to study and un­der­stand them.”

San­dra Ea­gle (North­ern Paiute/washoe/shoshone-ban­nock)

San­dra Ea­gle has worked magic with wil­low, seed beads and feath­ers from her home on the western shore of Pyra­mid Lake, Ne­vada, since age 20. Ea­gle learned bead­work from her mother, Jean­nette Ea­gle. Her grand­mother, Adele Muzena Sampson, in­structed Ea­gle how to har­vest, pre­pare and weave. Now a grand­mother her­self, Ea­gle cre­ates bas­kets and cradle­boards in var­i­ous sizes. “My bas­kets are em­bel­lished with shells or pheas­ant feath­ers along the rims,” she says. “I use red­bud for my de­signs, hand stitch beads onto the stitches or bead over the en­tire bas­ket with de­signs.”

Ea­gle says she has shown and sold her work at Na­tive art stores, In­dian art mar­kets, art ex­hi­bi­tions and pow­wows, and has won rib­bons for her bas­kets. And, her work has been im­mor­tal­ized in the book Weavers of Tra­di­tion & Beauty, 1995, the cover of the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian’s 2011 cal­en­dar and in other pub­li­ca­tions. She’s also fea­tured in the on­go­ing ex­hibit In­fin­ity of Na­tions at NMAI’S Ge­orge Gus­tav Heye Cen­ter in New York City.

“I am truly hon­ored and grate­ful for my mother’s and grand­mother’s pa­tience and teach­ings in my life­time,” says Ea­gle. “I will con­tinue to honor their tra­di­tional teach­ings and wis­dom to my fam­ily and grand­chil­dren, so they can carry on [our fam­ily’s work] and so our rel­a­tives will not be for­got­ten.”

Rachel Hess (Paiute/mi­wok)

Rachel Hess couldn’t help but be­come a top cradle­board artist: she’s the great-grand­daugh­ter of Mono Lake Paiute/mi­wok weaver Leanna Tom and the grand­daugh­ter of Nel­lie Char­lie, an­other ac­claimed Mono Lake Paiute weaver. Not to men­tion, her mother, Gretchen Hess, was one of her in­struc­tors as well as noted weaver Thelma Pue­blo. In fact, her fam­ily’s tal­ent is show­cased in two im­por­tant Cal­i­for­nia weav­ing books, Weav­ing a Legacy and Tra­di­tion and In­no­va­tion.

Hess, who lives on the Bishop Paiute Reser­va­tion in Cal­i­for­nia, chose cradle­boards as her spe­cialty. “I wanted to see more peo­ple us­ing cradle­boards,” Hess says. “Ba­bies in cradle­boards have pro­tec­tion; they can be still and at peace.” She also does bead­work and loom­work, as well as leather work and cus­tom sewing.

“I’m in­spired from God, ba­bies and na­ture, an­i­mals and col­ors,” she says. “I can en­vi­sion some­thing artis­tic and trans­late it into cradle­boards.” Also, for a cus­tom cradle­board, “I con­sult with the par­ents about their lives, what in­spires them, what their fa­vorite col­ors are, and what they wish and dream for the baby.”

Hess has been work­ing with the Autry Mu­seum, in­clud­ing en­ter­ing their an­nual show. “I have to get my Autry fix every year,” she says. She was part of the team that cre­ated the mu­seum’s “Com­mu­nity Bas­ket.”

Look for an­other gen­er­a­tion in the Hess tra­di­tion: “I’m look­ing for­ward to pass­ing this tra­di­tion down to my four nieces,” Hess says. “They’re all fan­tas­tic with their hands.”

Clint Mckay (Dry Creek Pomo/wappo/win­tun)

The nephew of leg­endary Pomo bas­ketweavers Ma­bel Mckay and Laura Som­er­sal, Clint Mckay says that weav­ing has al­ways “just been a part of life.” Mckay, who calls the Dry Creek Rancheria in Sonoma County, Cal­i­for­nia, home, adds, “I’ve been do­ing this for­ever—al­most 35 years now.”

Mckay cre­ates all forms of Pomo bas­kets—coiled, twined, beaded and feather bas­kets—us­ing only tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als such as wil­low, red­bud and sedge that he nur­tures, gath­ers and pre­pares him­self. In fact, Mckay along with his wife Lucy, two daugh­ters, three grand­daugh­ters and one grand­son work to­gether. “I’m tend­ing some plants in an area that our an­ces­tors have used for gen­er­a­tion,” he says.

Mckay’s work is in sev­eral North­ern Cal­i­for­nia mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Grace Hud­son Mu­seum in Ukiah, and in the Autry Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can West’s ex­hibit The Life and Work of Ma­bel Mckay.

“I con­sider bas­ketry to be more than just an art form,” says Mckay. “It’s the very essence of who we are as Pomo peo­ple. It’s the best way to honor our fam­i­lies, el­ders and an­ces­tors. It’s car­ry­ing on cul­ture and tra­di­tions that they held dear and paid a very high price to pre­serve.”

1. A fruit-in­spired bas­ket with ra­zor-sharp points by Frey.

2. A multi-col­ored bas­ket made with com­mer­cial dyes by Frey.

3. Carol Emarthle-dou­glas (North­ern Ara­paho/ Semi­nole), Painted Ponies, coiled oval wax linen bas­ket, 7 x 5 x 10"

4. Carol Emarthle-dou­glas (North­ern Ara­paho/ Semi­nole), Con­stel­la­tion, coiled waxed linen bas­ket, 7½ x 9½"

5. Shan Goshorn (East­ern Band of Cherokee), From

Where We Spring, Arches wa­ter­color pa­per printed with archival inks, acrylic paint and ar­ti­fi­cial sinew, 7½ x 7½ x 26"

Var­i­ous sized bas­kets by Ea­gle.

A cradle­board from Hess’ new line.

8. A piece of Mckay's bas­ketry that fea­tures bead­work.

9. An ex­am­ple of Mckay's bas­ketry.

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