Siletz basketmaker keeps the art alive

SILETZ, Ore. – High-quality baskets are still being produced on the Siletz Reservation, and Bud Lane is among the best basketmakers. Cradle baskets, ceremonial hats, cooking baskets and working baskets for carrying such things firewood, roots and clams – he makes them all.

There was never a Siletz tribe, but this reservation, headquartered in Siletz, is home to the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation. It includes tribes that historically occupied nearly all of western Oregon, and Lane’s ancestry is from the vicinity of the Rogue, Chetco and Smith rivers in southern Oregon. His parents were both raised on the reservation but his father was a career military man, and Lane grew up around naval bases till he returned to Siletz in 1975.

Lane only began making baskets about 15 years ago. “The first basket I made was a baby basket I made for a nephew of mine who was about to be born,” he related. “My wife [Cheryl] and I got involved in the Feather Dances, a Siletz traditional dance, and we had a need to do caps for women for the dances so I started to work on caps. It took a while to weave that level of basketry but after a little time I began to weave caps and have been doing it ever since. The need is what prompted the work.”

The weave of these ceremonial hats is tight, the lines are straight, and they compare favorably to hats done long ago. He learned from a woman named Gladys Muschamp, a family famous for their baskets. He spoke of his admiration for her and how she and a few others kept the basketry tradition alive, calling her “one of my greatest heroes.”

Lane explained that hazel sticks, or switches as some call them, are the basis of all Siletz basketry. “You start gathering in the springtime, when you have good hazel you can pick,” he said. “You pick sticks of all different sizes in the spring before they leaf out real bad and put them away. The next step is to dig spruce root, which is the weft in Siletz baskets, the other main ingredient. You can dig it all year around but many like to dig in the spring before the ground gets hard.

“In August, overlay materials become available for gathering. Bear grass is one. You pull bear grass from the center of the plant. Our process is to lay it out and bleach it in the sun until it turns completely white. Then it’s bundled and stored. The other main overlay we use is maidenhair fern and it’s picked at the same time.”

Lane continued, emphasizing the timing. “The ferns and bear grass must be picked at their zenith, when they’re at their absolute fullest. Picked too early, they are more brittle because the sap isn’t all the way up in them. Pick them too late and the sap is down and they’re also brittle. That time changes so you have to check these plants during the summer to find out when they’re the fullest.”

Lane also uses woodwardia fern. “I like to use it so much because it comes from my ethnic homeland on the Rogue and Chetco rivers. It gives the rust or red color. You strip the petals from the stem and pulverize the stem and open it up. Two long filaments run the length of the stem. You extract and dry those and make a dye out of red alder bark. I dye the fern innards in it, dry and store them for later use.” So by starting to gather hazel in May, it will be nearly the first of October before the materials are all ready to begin weaving baskets.

Lane also makes cooking baskets, xat-ts’a, which he still uses for cooking. “You can bring anything to boil in a cooking basket by putting water in it, heating small rocks in a fire, then putting a hot rock in the basket and stirring it around till it cools and replacing it with another hot rock and continuing till it boils.”

He said the most common thing to cook was acorn soup. “It was widely used all up the West Coast clear up into Canada.” He explained that few people still cook in baskets, although some still cook with rocks in metal pots. He added, “Even when I cook in a pot on the stove I eat acorn soup from a mush basket with an elk horn spoon.”

Lane is passing this knowledge of basketmaking on to others. He works for the Confederated Tribes full time as both a traditional arts instructor and a language instructor.

Lane and another Siletz basketweaver, Robert Kentpa, were invited by the Smithsonian Institution to attend an event called “Carriers of Culture” from the end of June until the Fourth of July. “It was really an honor to be selected and to represent Oregon, my own people and the Northwest Indians, and to weave our style of basketry on the mall. It was really neat,” Lane exclaimed.