In Case You Missed It: Beautiful Native-made Baskets at the Autry Museum
Debra Utacia Krol
The California Indian Basketweavers Association is enjoying a sorely-needed rejuvenation with major funding for Native-made baskets
Though you might have missed the California Indian Basketweavers Association (CIBA) 27th annual gathering in June at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, ICMN has a selection of beautifully crafted traditional Native-made basket photsgraphs for you to enjoy.
Though the event took place in June, Native basket weaving is now enjoying a cultural renaissance in Native California and CIBA is itself enjoying sorely-needed rejuvenation with major funding secured from several sources, including the First Nations Development Institute’s support of CIBA’s youth initiative #awlyeah, which stands for Awl – Youth Engaged in Arts History.
CIBA has been able to expand its programs, including the popular Tending the Wild workshops. The organization was also able to hire staff after being an all-volunteer nonprofit for the past few years due to decreased budgets.
The Autry Museum in Los Angeles
With more than 100 weavers in attendance to share ideas and techniques over a three-day event this past June, the California Indian Basketweavers Association annual gathering was the place to be to celebrate the traditions of our Native ancestors. The first thing one notices entering the front courtyard at the Autry Museum of the American West in central Los Angeles is the scent of fresh juncus. The riparian grass, one of the principal materials used in southern California baskets, stands tall in a planter. Mix in the earthy odor of willow, the tanginess of pine needles and other natural materials, and your olfactory sense knows you’re in the presence of one of Native America’s oldest traditional arts—basketry.
Carrie Lynn Garcia (Luiseño/Cahuilla), CIBA’s chairwoman, is enjoying the support and says she was pleased with the turnout in June. “We had 12 teachers and 16 demonstrators,” she said.
During the gathering, youth ambassadors Meisha Mayorga and Destiny Treglown, both Wukchumnis from the Tule River Tribe, demonstrated weaving yarn belts for cradle baskets and the crafting of hu’ach, or dice, from walnut shells and abalone nuggets. “We’ve been coming to CIBA with our grandma, Evelyn Malone,” said Mayorga.
Basket classes kept both children and adults busy as they learned to master a number of techniques from tiny doll cradle baskets to large gathering baskets and everything in between.
Rose Ann Hamilton (Mountain Cahuilla), showed 7-year-old Joselynn Dixon how to make a yucca brush. Along the way, the Chumash/Luiseño girl says she also learned an important life skill: “I learned patience,” she says.
Baja Native Basket Weavers Journey to L.A.
Baja California’s basket weavers faced far bigger hurdles than patience in making the journey from their remote homes to Los Angeles. Through interpreter Gerardo Chaves-Valazco, Maria de Los Angeles Carillo Silva, a Kumiai weaver from San Jose de la Zorra and one of eight Baja weavers, traveled four hours just to reach Tijuana so she could obtain her passport and visa. The two documents cost her $180, a hefty fee for an indigenous single mother who supports three children on her earnings. “It’s a choice sometimes between buying food and getting a visa,” she says.
Reaching the remote villages inhabited by Kumiai, Ipai and Pai Pai artisans can be an adventure for tourists as well, since only a hot, dusty and bumpy dirt road runs the 35 miles from Mexico Highway 3, itself only a secondary highway. That keeps prices down, which means less money at the end of the day. Also because the weavers have a “great need” to make enough money to provide basic necessities for their families, “we get exploited by dealers who buy big lots of baskets at low prices and then sell them up here for more money,” she says. So, the weavers prefer to come to events. “It’s good to meet people,” said Carillo Silva. “It’s good to know who’s going to wear our items.”
Native basket weavers who were cut off from their northern relatives after the Mexican-American War are also facing a decline in materials, because their traditional gathering areas are being invaded by cattle grazing on their ancestral lands. “Sometimes we have to pay for materials,” said Silva.
Exhibits at the Autry Honor Native Basket Weavers and Indigenous California Peoples
Gathering participants also were treated to the Autry’s ongoing exhibition California Continued, which explores the world of Native Californians through art, artifacts and a new ethno-botanical garden. The exhibition also features the life and works of famed Pomo basket weaver Mabel McKay.
The exhibit also featured possibly the event’s biggest basket—a Cahuilla basket crafted from smashed beer cans and measuring 6 feet in diameter. The giant basket, “Continuum Basket: Flora,” created by Gerald Clarke Jr., represents not only his traditional Cahuilla art, but reflects the impact of modern life on desert lands.
The location for CIBA’s gathering was a natural choice, says W. Richard West, Jr., president and CEO of the museum. “Across our nation, California basket weavers are known to be the absolute premier weavers,” said West, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation, “and I say this as a Native arts leader who is not from the state of California.” West credits the Autry’s outreach manager, Diana Terrazas (Bishop Paiute), for facilitating the collaboration. “I believe there is a great deal of opportunity for future collaborations between the Autry and CIBA,” West says.