Basketry helps preserve
Native American art
Condensed by Native Village
Among the Anishnabe (Ojibwe)
is a legend of how a man
named Black Elk was concerned
for his people.
Nearing the end
of his life, he worried about
his people's restlessness. He
wanted to give them something to
help them provide for their
families and teach them the
patience they needed.
Black Elk asked Creator what
could be done to help his
people. Creator instructed him
to have his people cremate his
remains after he died. Out of
the ashes, a sacred tree
That tree was the black ash,
people were told to protect
until it was fully-grown.
Then they cut down the mature
tree with appropriate equipment,
thanks to Creator. They
stripped the bark, then used
heavy mallets to pound the trunk
until the soft summer growth was
crushed. What remained was the harder
spring and winter growth.
This they cut away into strips and
then, with great skill and
workmanship, they created baskets
of great beauty.
patience by waiting for the
trees to mature, preparing the
wood, and weaving the strips
into all kinds of
to trade for things the people
For thousands of years, the
Anishnabe have used black
ash trees to create baskets for every
purpose including drying herbs,
storing food, harvesting crops,
and hauling beaver traps and
felts. But like many
traditional crafts, true black
is rarely practiced because
cheap substitute materials
require none of the painstaking
April Stone-Dahl, however, is
reviving the traditional
basketmaking. First she learned
the basics of making baskets from her husband,
Jarrod. Then she began
teaching herself the details of
making them from trees.
April, a member of the Bad
River Band of Lake Superior
Chippewa, has long been
intrigued by black ash baskets,
once so common in Native
"I have searched for stories,
I've asked elders if they
remember anything about them
from when they were young," she
Her interest led to a
career in creating the baskets.
Now she wants to teach
others the art.
In June of 2009, Stone-Dahl
received a yearlong Folk Arts
Apprenticeship Grant from the
Wisconsin Arts Board. She is now
teaching apprentice Jenny Morris
(Bad River Band) the skills
needed to turn a raw tree into
an exquisite basket.
"First you have to find a good
straight black ash tree, from a
swampy area," Stone Dahl said.
"We look for a tree that has no
knots, no limbs, no visible
scars for the first 20 feet or
so, with a healthy crown. We
will make our offering and then
cut the tree."
She said the tree must be found in the
spring so the bark can be easily
removed in a single piece. The
swampy area insures that the
wood is moist.
"Otherwise you have to do a lot
of work with a drawknife,
White and green ash can also be
used to make baskets, but they
are are much more difficult to
After the bark is stripped, the
next step is beating the log.
This requires must labor.
A mallet is used to beat the log
for hours on end while rolling
the log on V-notched stumps.
After the soft pulp is gone, the
harder growth is stripped
lengthwise off the logs. These
are called "splints."
elder told me that he remembered
pounding a log for his aunt when
he was 14, but that was the last
time he ever did it because the
labor was so hard." Stone-Dahl
The splints are trimmed evenly,
rolled into coils and stored
in a dry, mold-free location.
When they are needed, the coils
soaked in hot water until the
are flexible and can be folded
in half without breaking.
they are ready
to be woven.
Stone-Dahl said she wished she
had been taught to weave by her grandmother, but that part
of Native American culture
almost been lost for many years.
"I was sad about it because it
just seems that there are a lot
of things that have been left on
the side of the path," she said.
Stone-Dahl is also teaching basketmaking at Northland
College and at a University of
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