Baskets in Mud

 

Back in 1973 Alan and I hiked with our newborn son Steve three miles out to Ozette Archaeological site and camped there with the crew. Ozette is on the remote North-Western tip of Washington State, on the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Al had met one of the crew members, Dale Croes, when they were on a dig in Prince Rupert, BC in 1969 and Dale had invited us to come and see the amazing year-round work that was taking place at Ozette.

Basketry shrimp trap

What impressed me was the fact that the excavation was being done with garden hoses, powered by generators. This was because Ozette village had been completely covered by a mudslide some 300 years ago and the archaeologists had discovered that amongst the artifacts being found under the mud were pieces of basketry, ropes and fish-nets. These had been preserved by a constantly wet layer of clay. Uncovering them with a gentle spray of water was the best way to keep the pieces intact. These precious pieces were subsequently professionally preserved in the Museum at Neah Bay Indian Reservation, a few miles up the road.

clam basket

Dale was studying Native basketry for his graduate degree and for one semester attended basket-making classes in the Neah Bay High School. Yes, we teased him. Basket-making has been a major part of NorthWest Indigenous culture for thousands of years, all up and down this coast. Cedar bark and roots, Spruce roots and  grasses were used. We met a much respected basket maker in Port Alberni when Alan was digging there, on the Tseshaht reserve, the same year that we first visited Ozette and I am pleased we still have the ‘shopping basket’ Auntie Mabel made for us.

 

 

Many years later Dale was delighted to meet Ed Carriere, a Suquamish elder from Puget Sound, who was making baskets and teaching others. Dale talked to him about the ancient baskets from a number of archaeological sites that they’d rescued from the mud and Ed expressed interest in seeing them and learning how they had been made. 

The upshot is that Ed has made a second career of studying the old basket fragments, understanding the different weaving techniques and materials which had been used for clam baskets, fish-nets and ropes, cedar clothing and traps, and now demonstrating his skills to his people. His goal is to revive the tradition and make sure that what he has learned from ancient samples will be preserved for the future. Dale has arranged for Ed to appear at Archaeology, Weaving and Wet Site conferences and together they have travelled to Japan, New Zealand, England and Belgium and around much of North America. 

Reawakening Ancient Salish Sea Basketry with Ed Carriere and Dr. Dale R. Croes

Last week the two of them were in Vancouver to promote the book they have produced together, “Re-Awakening Ancient Salish Sea Basketry”. They gave a talk in the Great Hall at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. They explained how their paths had converged and showed us the beautifully woven pieces Ed has made. The baskets were passed around amongst the audience. Ed says that, like pottery and all hand-made crafts, the work should be handled. Dale can make these baskets too, of course, but I’m just delighted that, as a retired Anthropology professor, he is now spending much of his time accompanying Ed on travels and recording the ancient techniques.

Roy & Maureen admiring a replica basket

For basket makers and weavers, and people like me, who admire fine crafts, I would like to recommend this  well illustrated book. It gives much more information than I have about Ed’s history in basketry, and explains Dale’s career and how he became so interested in water-logged ancient indigenous weaving, and in contemporary Native basket-making.

Ed & Dale signing books

Local Salish weavers attended the presentation. Splendid historic Salish blankets are currently featured in a major show at MOA and there are many weavers today working at this long-established craft. I hope that there is, or will soon be, a similar resurgence in basket-making amongst Native people here in BC. Ed says there are many basket-makers in Washington and Oregon states now, so his hopes for the future of the skills are being realized.

https://www.amazon.com/Re-Awakening-Ancient-Salish-Sea-Basketry/dp/1973968223/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516775098&sr=8-1&keywords=re-awakening+ancient+salish+sea+basketry

Ed Carriere & Dale Croes

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