Saturday, July 05, 2008

Basket Revival and Revitalization

The resurgence in Cherokee Basketry continued in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and the basket makers in North Carolina seized the moment to produce and market their creations...

In contrast to other art processes, basketry of this period shows clear continuity with historic precedents in white oak and rivercane techniques, traditional choice and use of dyes, and a continuing presence of the double-weave technique, characteristic of the eastern Cherokee.

Lottie Queen Stamper taught basket making full-time at the Cherokee boarding school from 1937 until her retirement in 1966 and was a significant influence in the revival of contemporary eastern Cherokee basketry in cane and oak splints (see figure 36). She set high standards in her own work and challenged other basket makers to strive for such aesthetic levels as well. Her students included her niece Eva Wolfe, Carol and Agnes Welch, Nancy Conseen, and Rowena Bradley, all of whom established strong careers as basket weavers in later years.

...During the 1940s, Lottie Stamper became a singular force in sparking an interest in the revival of the almost lost art of the double weave technique of river cane basketry...

On of her most famous creations, Basket with Lid (figure 37) is based on the Sloane Basket, British Museum, London (see figure 9). The eighteenth-century basket is one of the oldest surviving examples of Cherokee double-weave basketry. Stamper replicated the basket's shape and pattern by studying a photostatic copy of the original. (QAC 1987, iii).

Stamper's niece and student Eva Wolfe became one of the most widely renowned basket makers in the United States. She was born July 24, 1922, in the Soco community of the Qualla Boundary, North Carolina. (Eva has since passed on) Like many other Cherokee women, she first learned the art of the basketry from her mother and later studied the technique further in a weaving class sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs School on the Qualla Boundary (see also her remarks in the epigraph to this chapter).

Later, Wofe refined her knowledge of the difficult technique when she worked with Stamper. Wolfe revived patterns of Historic twill-woven double-weave basketry, bringing the technique and designs to a new level of technical and aesthetic achievement (see figure 38). She received many awards for her basketry, including a first prize for a double-weave basket exhibited in 1968 at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (Qac 1987, 2). In the 1977 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Eva a craftperson's fellowship grant to create an exhibition, later shown in the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery (Mails 1996, 251). Twill-woven double-weave rivercane baskets represent the oldest Cherokee basket tradition.

Nancy Bradley, legendary in the field of basket making, specializing in the challenging double-weave rivercane technique, although she worked in white oak, honeysuckle, and even bamboo at times. As early as 1915, Nancy Bradley was an accomplished weaver of cane, and, according to her daughter Rowena, she continued to weave until shortly before her death in 1963.

One of Nancy Bradley's most outstanding examples, Burden Basket (figure 39), made in 1941, features natural and dyed rivercane in a square-to-round form with a beautifully configured swastika symbol repeated on each of the four sides. ...

Nancy Bradley's mastery of the material is evident in the smooth transition from the squared bottom of the basket to the round top, giving Burden Basket an elegant form. The circular rim is accented by a dark brown chain patter, which contrasts with the golden color of the natural cane. Such skillful manipulation of color, emphasized through visual contrast, adds further to the beauty of the surface design.

Burden Basket was one of the eight Bradley rivercane baskets collected by Clark Field in 1941...

Traditionally, burden baskets were woven of durable cane or oak splints for carrying heavy items such as food harvests. They were worn on the back, secured by a tumpline around the chest. When Burden Basket is compared to other plain, unadorned, more utilitarian baskets of the type, however, it is apparent that Bradley's basket was intended not for such heavy labor, but for a more formal purpose or perhaps as a object to be collected by a patron. We certainly admire Burden Basket as one of the most artistically superior examples of Cherokee basketry in general and of the double-weave style in particular. Without question, Nancy Bradley was an accomplished artist by all standards. (this basket is actually a twill-plaited weave, rather than the traditional double-weave)

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book: