Sharing Traditions Exhibit in Yosemite Showcases Native American Basketry

A story about a new art exhibit this summer on Native American baset-making and art called Sharing Traditions at Yosemite National Park.

This summer, go to Yosemite National Park for the spectacular natural beauty, but stick around for a splendid new exhibition of Native American basket-making, Sharing Traditions.

Yosemite is "not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra," says the National Park Service. "First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more."


Yosemite National Park

And much more this summer is Sharing Traditions, which showcases 80 years of Native basketry demonstrators and art. A 36-inch-wide basket that took three years to hand weave, restored film footage of American Indian history in the 1920s and an oral history of Native cultural demonstrators are among the items showcased in the new exhibit at the Yosemite Museum celebrating the 80-year history of Yosemite National Park’s basket-weaving demonstrators and their role in conveying American Indian culture to the public. 

The nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy provided $100,000 to create the exhibit. “Contributions from our donors enable us to preserve the park’s cultural history and enhance the visitor experience,” said Mike Tollefson, president of Yosemite Conservancy, in a press release.

The exhibit is free and open to the public until October 31. “Sharing Traditions depicts the history of weaving demonstrators in the park from 1929 to the present, examining their critical role as American Indian liaisons to the public and giving visitors the opportunity to connect to the region’s culture,” said Don Neubacher, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, in the release.

Sharing Traditions is told primarily through three women — Maggie Howard (1870-1947), Lucy Telles (1885-1955) and Julia Parker — all of whom have worked in Yosemite National Park and created countless baskets currently housed in the museum’s collection. Parker, 84, is the park’s longest-serving current employee and has dedicated her life to ensuring American Indian culture and basket-weaving skills passed down from her elders continue to flourish. “What these women did is a story that should be heard because of the artistic ability they had,” she said. 

Telles’s 36 inch-wide basket made from roots, redbud and willow is the largest known to have been woven from the Yosemite region and was exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939. One of Howard’s cradlebaskets on display was made in 1938 for the daughter of a Yosemite Ranger with a rag doll inside trimmed with Howard’s own hair. Parker’s baskets have been on display at the Smithsonian and are in the Queen of England’s collection.

Keith Walklet

Cultural demonstrator Julia Parker shares American Indian traditions with visitors of all ages at the Yosemite Museum.

Since 1960, Parker has been sharing Yosemite’s cultural history with visitors and demonstrating basketweaving techniques at the Yosemite Museum. “When visitors leave I want them to have a better understanding about the baskets and about the plants we have in Yosemite,” she said. “Then they’ll have more caring and more love for the Valley that has protected these plants for us.”

Audio and video materials will convey a greater depth of Yosemite’s cultural diversity. Visitors will see archived film footage and photographs of the weavers, and hear an oral history by Parker describing the work of Howard and Telles and the changes in appreciation of American Indian basketry. For further details about the exhibit, including travel information, go to Nps.gov/yose.

Through the support of donors, Yosemite Conservancy provides grants and support to Yosemite National Park to help preserve and protect Yosemite today and for future generations. The work funded by Yosemite Conservancy is visible throughout the park, from trail rehabilitation to wildlife protection and habitat restoration. The Conservancy is dedicated to enhancing the visitor experience and providing a deeper connection to the park through outdoor programs, volunteering and wilderness services. Thanks to dedicated supporters, the Conservancy has provided more than $75 million in grants to Yosemite National Park. Learn more at YosemiteConservancy.org or call 800-469-7275.