Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lottie Queen Stamper

In 1937 Gertrude Flanagan accompanied boarding school principal Sam Gilliam to the Painttown home of basketweaver Lottie Queen Stamper and asked her to teach basketry at the school.

Lottie Queen was born in 1906 "on a little farm" in Soco. She was the fifth of six children and the fourth of five daughters born to Levi and Mary Queen. They "use to go to the hills" to get white oak saplings for baskets. As a child, she learned from her father "how the log was to be split," andthen "my mother took over and showed me how to make splits."

After she married, Stamper learned from her mother-in-law how to weave with rivercane.

Stamper's school courses were an instant success. Stamper's contribution to Cherokee basketry is immeasurable. For more than thirty years, she taught both young girls and grown women. She worked in the Cherokee Boarding School until it closed in the early fifties, then taught high school classes and adult extension courses.

In the late 1930's someone sent her a photograph of the two rivercane doubleweave baskets Governor Nicholson had carried with him from Charleston back to London in 1725. Stamper painstakingly wove a smaller version of each container using more than 500 splits of cane. The patterns in the baskets were not familiar to her and she had to recreate the designs on paper. "It took me two and one half days to work out the pattern," she later acknowledged. Her effort is dramatic testimony to the intricacies ofCherokee basketweaving.

Stamper collected old patterns, copied them in a notebook, and reproduced them on graph paper. Drawings of rivercane patterns hung on the walls ofher classroom, and her students practiced reproducing them on graph paper in order to learn the numerical combinations for each design. Patterns that once belonged to families became common property. And patterns that once belonged only to rivercane were shared with white oak.

Copying the work of others became common place, but public dissemination of family traditions contravened customs of knowledge and training. Patterns of basketry and life were undoubtedly lost in the process. The old rivercane designs hanging on the classroom walls represented a great deal more than weaving techniques. They were strands that connected family members, expressed identity, documented concepts shared through time, preserved knowledge and experience, and interwove past and present. Patterns were forms of communication and assertions of self. " Some people say if you copied their baskets," one weaver remarks quietly, "they say you're taking their patterns away." The implications are profound.

As family patterns moved into public arenas, they took on new names. Most weavers recall that the names of basket patterns came from Gertrude Flanagan and Edna Groves. The names, like "Flowing Water" and "Chief's Daughter,"tended toward nostalgia. Many say that such names have no meaning to them and that their mothers and grandmothers did not identify patterns by name. Others, however fully adopted the custom and participated in the new practice of naming designs and patterns. After Stamper replicated the Nicholson basket, she claimed that "we basket makers named the bottom part"The Pine Tree" and the the top "The Casket."

In 1951, The Indian Arts and Crafts Board hired Gertrude Flanagan as Arts and Crafts Specialist for the Southeastern region. In her new role, she assumed responsibility for encouraging and directing craftwork amongChoctaws, Seminoles and Catawbas, as well as Cherokees.

source: Weaving New Worlds, by Sarah Hill