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
  “Coming into the presence of these baskets, chills go down your spine. You’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of years of work.”
— Terrol Johnson, Tohono O’odham
  Terrol Johnson

In spring 2003, the Museum invited Terrol Johnson and four other Native basket-makers and one Native basketry scholar 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, Terrol chose these four baskets from the Museum’s collections and paired them with baskets from his own and other Southwest basket-makers’ contemporary works.

Terrol Johnson, co-director of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) in Sells, Arizona, divides his time between working as an artist, organizing basketry initiatives, including a basketry cooperative, and conducting educational outreach programs for youth. He credits his grandfather, a traditional healer, with encouraging his sense of community spirit, which he describes as “the desert people’s way.” His art combines a variety of traditional and contemporary techniques and has earned awards throughout the Southwest. Mr. Johnson says that his work “reflects my connection to tradition as well as the diversity of contemporary life. It walks in two worlds.”

The Weaver’s View

The Tohono O’odham—People of the Desert—have always lived in tune with our surroundings. Our culture and our very survival have depended upon that ability, and this closeness to the physical world around us is reflected in our basketry.

In the Sonora Desert, the ha:sañ, giant saguaro cactus, stands over the landscape. My people consider the ha:sañ to be one of our relatives and holy to us as a people.

Just as today’s world is reflected in the work of contemporary weavers, historic weavers reflected their world in these baskets. Until the 1930s, willow and cattail were the primary materials used in our baskets. Then farming surrounded the reservations, and the water table dropped. The willow trees and cattails that were once abundant in the lower parts of the desert are no longer there. So weavers moved on to an alternative material, the yucca, which you now often see in O’odham baskets.

Our ever-changing environment has inspired generations of contemporary weavers to depict the realities of Native communities. As Native people we find ourselves in a world in which tradition is still very much a part of our contemporary lives and our heritage is central to our contemporary identity.
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