Stitch by Stitch
CONTEMPORARY BASKET ARTISTS CONTINUE TRADITION.
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.