The Language of Native American Baskets The Weaver's View The Weaver's View
Introduction The Weavers' View Techniques, Tools & Workplaces The Weavers' Aesthetic Burden Baskets A Set of Values Basketmaking Associations
Lisa Telford
Pat Courtney Gold
Julia Parker & Sherrie Smith-Ferri
Terrol Johnson
Theresa Hoffman
  “You follow the rules, and just relax, let those pieces of fiber in that basket just dance in your hands….”
—Julia Parker, Pomo

“If it wasn’t for collectors who loved our baskets, we wouldn’t have them. And museums—they’re teachers now.”
— Sherrie
Dry Creek Pomo
  Julia Parker and Sherrie Smith-Ferri

In spring 2003, the Museum invited basket-maker Julia Parker, basketry scholar Sherrie Smith-Ferri, and four other Native basket-makers to a two-day seminar to review this exhibition in its early stages. All of them expressed their strong wish to present basketry as a living art, with strong links to cultural history. To help illustrate this continuity, Julia and Sherrie chose these four Pomo baskets from the Museum’s collections and paired them with baskets from Julia’s and other California basket-makers’ contemporary works.

Julia Parker was born in 1929 in Graton, California. Orphaned at an early age, she and her brothers and sisters were educated at Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. Julia learned to weave from her husband's grandmother, Lucy Telles, a Mono Lake Paiute artist who worked as a cultural specialist at the Yosemite Museum in Yosemite National Park, a position Julia now holds. Julia continued her studies with local Miwok-Paiute weavers Carrie Bethel, Minnie Mike, and Ida Bishop, and later studied Pomo basketry with master weaver Elsie Allen and several other teachers. Through her classes and demonstrations at Yosemite and in many elementary schools, colleges, and museums, Parker plays an important part in preserving the games, tools, and foods of California Indians, as well as their basketry.

Sherrie Smith-Ferri, director of the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah, California, grew up in Sonoma County, in a Dry Creek Pomo and Bodega Bay Miwok family. Sherrie’s grandmother, Lucy Smith, learned basketmaking in the early 1900s, when she was young. She returned to the art in her 60s, after her children were grown, and taught Sherrie how to weave simple things. “I learned as a child—and don’t question to this day—the truism that Pomo Indians made the best baskets in the world.” The fact that Pomo baskets are represented in collections throughout the United States and Europe, led Sherrie to see basketmaking and collecting as a rich field for academic study. “The basketry market at the turn of the 20th century was a crossroads,” she says. “It was a place where Native women could get together and make a living when few other options were open to them, and one of the few places where Natives and non-Natives met to negotiate issues of cultural identity.”

The Weaver’s View

We selected these four older pieces from the Museum’s collections to illustrate the excellence and diversity of Pomo baskets made by weavers nearly a century ago. These baskets were the creations of gifted artists, women of talent, discipline, and experience. They combined technique, design, shape, and quality materials to produce these extraordinary pieces that sing and beckon and shine.

The contemporary baskets displayed here demonstrate how Pomo basketry has both endured and changed. The work of Pomo weavers today is smaller, and baskets are generally coiled, rather than twined. Baskets are made for new purposes, such as these miniature baby basket earrings.

And yet their origin is still the earth. Weaving enmeshes you in older, traditional relationships. As Julia says, “You take from the earth and say please, and you give back to the earth and say thank you. You follow the rules, and just relax, let those pieces of fiber in that basket just dance in your hands, just dance around and flow in there. You feel the spirits all around you, you just feel good, and then you say a prayer.”

Enjoy the beauty of these pieces. They are close to our hearts.
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