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.