Contemporary Great Basin Basketmakers

Contemporary Great Basin Basketmakers – For the native people of the Great Basin, weaving carries both historical and contemporary significance. In their past, the Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe people practiced a way of life based in part on the seasonal harvest of wild plant resources, and weaving provided most of their tools used to harvest, prepare, and store these foods. As Euro-American people moved west into the lands of the Great Basin Indian people, ways of life were forced to change. Although native people adopted many Euro-American goods, weaving baskets endured as a symbol of native identity and artistic expression.
Native women and men continue this cultural legacy. Although baskets were and are traditionally made by women, some men have joined the ranks of basketmakers. The skills of basketmaking are handed down through families, thus artists produce works within a distinctive familial or tribal style. Some of the weavers work to preserve traditional methods and designs, while others create new traditions with innovations in style and technique. For all of the basketmakers, regardless of style, consistency is found in a connection with one’s history. Baskets are a symbol of timeless native identity as well as an expression of skill and artistry.
Many basketmakers were never actually taught to weave, but learned by watching their elders and imitating what they observed. This time-honored method is now supplemented with active teaching. Many native communities offer classes for young people. Traditional opportunities to observe their elders are difficult for young native people of the twenty-first century. School and work take them away from their grandparents and rob them of the necessary hours and days spent with elders to learn how to harvest and prepare materials as well as to weave. The Great Basin Native Basketweavers Association, the Nevada Arts Council’s Folklife Apprenticeship Program, and the many cultural festivals and art celebrations hosted by tribal people provide other occasions to learn basketmaking. Native basketmakers work tirelessly to document, teach, preserve, and continue this art form.
Some of the many contemporary, award-winning basketmakers include: Florine Conway, Washoe; Lilly Sanchez, Shoshone; Norman Delorme, Paiute/Washoe; Rebecca and Sandra Eagle, Paiute/Shoshone sisters; Sue Coleman, cousin of Florine Conway, Washoe; Evelyn Pete, Shoshone; Bernadine Delorme, Shoshone; Larena Burns, Washoe/Paiute; and Everett Pikyavit, Paiute. Others not profiled here include Rosemary DeSoto and her sister Elaine Smokey, Paiute; Celia Delorme, Paiute/Shoshone/Washoe; Linda Johnson Comas, Paiute; and Jenny Dick, Paiute/Shoshone.