Master artist Sue Coleman will demonstrate today an ancient skill she is fighting to keep alive. Willow baskets like the ones she makes were vital to her Washo tribal ancestors.
"Our survival depended on baskets," she said. "In our baskets we cooked our food, we collected our food, we stored our food, we carried our food and we carried our babies. And they were used for fishing traps and hunting."
Coleman will show how to make a pine-nut roasting tray from noon until 4 p.m. today at the Nevada State Museum.
She learned to weave from her mother, Theresa Smokey Jackson, and is eager to pass on the knowledge. It's more than a craft, she said.
"It's who we are. It's always been an important part of our life and a part of our survival. It's like our language - we're trying to keep that alive, too. These things are important to us because they're who we are. And I think the baskets are beautiful. Basket weaving is a spiritual experience to me."
Coleman, who has made baskets for 16 years, travels the nation teaching her skills. In May she returned from a basket-weaving conference in Hawaii. In July she'll help organize a conference at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Two examples of Washo-style cradle boards she made are on display in the "Remarkable Women" exhibit in the California State History Museum in Sacramento.
"Basket weaving is my life," she said.
She described basket making as "the longest continuing tradition in the United States," but noted that it's dying.
"The reason that it's dying out is because there is not much interest. There are just too many other things that are taking its place. It's sad that it's almost gone."
Coleman, who won a Governor's Award for excellence in folk arts, has passed on her knowledge to school groups from Reno to Smith Valley. She has also taught her daughter, Cynthia, to collect willow.
"Cynthia is weaving - that's wonderful," she said. "And my granddaughter Tera is weaving. She won a blue ribbon for a basket last month at a Great Basin Native Basket Weavers contest. That was her first blue ribbon. I'm so proud of her."
Today's demonstration is open to the public.
Co-sponsored by the Nevada Arts Council, the event is part of a series of American Indian craft demonstrations complementing the long-term Under One Sky Native American heritage exhibit.
Contact Karl Horeis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
If You Go
What: American Indian master basket weaver Sue Coleman demonstration
Where: Nevada State Museum, 600 N. Carson St.
When: Today from noon until 4 p.m.
Cost: Regular admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for children under 18.