Basketweavers exchange techniques at gathering in Reno
A conference of skilled artisans brought an exchange of techniques and the making of new friends as the California-Great Basin Indian Basketweavers Gathering was held at Rancho San Rafael in Reno last weekend.
“What was so great about the whole gathering,” said Dresslerville resident and Washoe Tribal elder Joann Martinez, “was everyone was in such a friendly mood. Everyone had the same interest. You get that feeling that it’s all for one purpose.”
Martinez gave the opening prayer in the Washoe language at the event June 23. That Friday, demonstrations, speakers and teachers offered members of the California Indian Basketweavers Association and the Great Basin Native Basketweavers Association a chance to see and marvel over each other’s techniques and use of natural materials.
“I really enjoyed it,” Martinez said. “It was a neat thing to have these other tribes coming in, showing their basketweaving and things that they’ve made.”
She said that Native Americans from California have a wider variety of materials to choose from for their baskets, and their techniques of preparation and weaving differ. For instance, some California weavers use grasses that Martinez would consider just weeds.
“That was very informative to me,” she said. “It’s amazing what they do with the plants. It’s fascinating. I couldn’t believe what I saw.”
Mike Williams of Carson City, who makes tule ducks and miniature tule boats, sold out most of his items early in the afternoon on Saturday, when the gathering was open to the public and weavers sold their creations.
“I really enjoyed it (the gathering),” he said. “I wasn’t able to go to a lot of the meetings because I was setting up. From what I gathered from sitting there (in his booth), it was neat to have these other tribes coming in and showing their basketweaving and things they’ve made.”
Williams is a member of the Walker River Paiute group and makes his ducks in the Paiute tradition.
“A lot of tribes in the Great Basin made them, up north through Elko and all over,” he said.
Among the Washoe people to demonstrate were Norma Smokey of Carson Valley, making Washoe utility baskets, and Sue Coleman of Carson City, showing her intricately made Washoe cradleboards. One of her cradleboards was among the items chosen to be featured in a showcase of basketweaving inside the Rancho San Rafael Park’s Wilbur May Museum, where the finest of weavings done in the past year were on display.
Linda Navarro, a Cahvilla-Shasta from California and a member of the California Indian Basketweavers Association, said the conference was her fifth gathering and fifth year of basketweaving.
“It’s a wonderful conference,” she said. She was making a fruit basket.
Navarro’s sister Mary Carpolin, her teacher and a weaver for 15 years, made an egg basket with handle that was in the showcase and also demonstrated at the public event.
Navarro echoed Martinez’s thoughts on the importance of different tribes gathering to share their craft and make friends from other areas.
Martinez said that she was also interested in interacting with Nevada tribes through the newly formed Great Basin Basketweavers Association.
“What is great to me, and I have attended all the meetings except one,we get to know the other tribal people like the Shoshone and the Paiutes, ” she said. “We’re not in direct contact with them all the time, but they are good people, friendly, and I just get a good feeling being around them, especially the weavers.”
Martinez added that groups such as the two basketweavers associations have as a main purpose the preserving of Native American traditions. And among those who are involved are plenty of young people.
“The young people, that is what is great to me – the many young people wanting to do this,” she said. “You know they are going to be carrying it on.”
She chuckled when she said, “With my hands I have aches and pains and arthritis, and here these young women with their strong hands, they handle these materials with ease.”
Joann Martinez, left, was a teacher during the basketweavers gathering, and Sue Coleman, right, a demonstrator. They are both Washoe weavers.
Norma Smokey of Dresslerville gave demonstrations on how to make Washoe utility baskets.
Mike Williams of Carson City sold some of the tule ducks and miniature tule boats he makes in the Paiute tradition.
JOYCE HOLLISTER photos