“Sharing Traditions” exhibit at Yosemite National Park

“Sharing Traditions” tells the story of 80 years of basket making in Yosemite National Park. I was fortunate enough to see this exhibit in the summer of 2012, and took pictures to share. Yosemite National Park has an 80-year tradition of basket-weaving demonstrations, and this exhibit celebrates that legacy and the three primary basket-makers – only three! – who demonstrated all those years. From the website: “Sharing Traditions depicts the history of weaving demonstrators in the park from 1929 to the present, examining their critical role as American Indian liaisons to the public and giving visitors the opportunity to connect to the region’s culture,” said Don Neubacher, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

Maggie Howard was the first of the three women. She was a Paiute born at Mono Lake, spending most of her life in Yosemite. She worked at the Yosemite Museum from 1929 to 1942, demonstrating acorn preparation and basket weaving. The University of California online digital archives includes one picture of Maggie preparing acorns, with baskets around her (presumably some, at least, are hers).

YosemiteNative1 posted the video below on YouTube, entitled “Bread from Acorns” by Guy T. Haselton, featuring Maggie Tabooosee Howard. Its copyright date is hard to decipher.

Lucy Telles was Mono Lake Paiute and Yosemite Miwok. She was the second artist, and demonstrated from about 1930 to 1956, and is perhaps best known for making the largest basket in Yosemite Valley. At 36″ wide, made of sedge root, bracken fern root, redbud, and willow, the basket was completed in 1933 after four years of work. It was exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939, and is now on display at the Yosemite Museum. Postcards of Telles and her basket were sold at Yosemite, and ranger-naturalists brought tourists to her house to see it. For scale, see this picture of Telles and her basket (perhaps the one sold to tourists?), also at the University of California online digital archives. Less impressive because you can’t see the scale is my picture of the basket below. The workmanship is immaculate, and those who does any sort of structural craft knows that these kinds of things are not easily scalable to large size – there are structural difficulties in making something this large.

Yosemite-Telles-large
Lucy Telles (1933), 36″ wide

Julia Parker, the current basket maker, is now about 87, and has been demonstrating at Yosemite the longest of the three, since 1960. She is Coast Miwok and Kashaya Pomo. Julia married Lucy Telles’ grandson, and shortly after their marriage, moved to Yosemite Valley and began learning from Lucy. SFGate published a story about Julia in June 2013, if you’d like to learn more of her story, and see some pictures of her.

She was there when I visited, and I was a bit starstruck. I’m sure I could have taken a picture of her, but I felt intrusive doing so. Julia was weaving a basket, but when children came by, she stopped what she was doing, and taught them how to play essentially a dice game with acorns, if I remember correctly. From the June 13, 2013 Mariposa Gazette, “When visitors leave I want them to have a better understanding about the baskets and about the plants we have in Yosemite,” she said. “Then they’ll have more caring and more love for the Valley that has protected these plants for us.”

The exhibit was just recently installed before I visited, and appears to have no end date. If you are ever in the matchless Yosemite National Park, please stop at the Yosemite Museum and enjoy the baskets. And perhaps you too will be able to see Julia Parker.

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