11” (L) X 3.5”(H) X 5.5”(W) Arches watercolor paper, archival inks, acrylic paint, buckskin
This basket was inspired by my research in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (DC) and the Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum (OK).
During my Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship, I discovered a rather small Cherokee double-weave basket. This basket and lid were tied together with a piece of cloth to keep it closed and was entitled "Trinket Basket.” The artist is unknown but the basket was collected in NC by Mark Harrington, probably in the early 1900’s.
I was so enchanted with the shape, the new-to-me pattern and the way the basket was tied together that I contemplated it for over a year, wondering what would be so precious to warrant being secured so tenderly? I finally decided that the most important thing to the Cherokee would have to be our culture, represented in my piece with the Cherokee language.
The interior of Precious Holding is woven with reproductions of several important historical documents including the Gilcrease Museum’s treasure of Sequoyah's original syllabary alphabet, written in his own hand. Also woven on the inside are signatures of a Cherokee D.C. delegation report (including Chief John Ross) protesting removal and signatures by Cherokee members who protested the validity of the Treaty of New Echota - the clandestine document used by the U.S. government to force the tribe to Oklahoma.
The exterior features more contemporary writings including the recent remembrances of a Cherokee man who wrote about what it is like to grow up as, and to be, Cherokee. It is combined with a hand-written version of our Morning Song and an I-Phone screen saver (demonstrating modern relevance) that reminds us of traditional common courtesies, i.e. "Always greet other Cherokee people like brothers and sisters" and "Speak Cherokee to anyone who understands Cherokee."
It is my belief that language is the basis of a culture; it is not a coincidence that the first goal of government boarding schools with the mission to assimilate Indian children into white society, was to eliminate all tribal languages. Children were forbidden to speak their native tongue in an effort to separate them completely from their heritage. Speaking- and thinking!- in your tribal tongue connects you to your ancestors and allows you to see the world in the same way our relatives have since time immemorial. May we always consider this gift from the Creator to be precious.