Exchanging Cultures

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

A cultural exchange, an art form that transcends borders — weaving. At the Ka Ulu Lauhala O Kona gathering of basket weavers, Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole) was taught how to gather material from the hala tree, strip off the thorns and prepare the leaves. 

She worked alongside Native Hawaiian weavers and a weaver from Australia. They wove bracelets, bookmarks, coasters and a fan in Hawaiian style.

This was a new style for Carol, a traditional/contemporary basket weaver who uses an old method — coiled basketry. This technique called out to her twenty years ago when she took a coiled basketry class. It’s challenging and time consuming, but it’s in her. She hopes her hands hold out a long time to perform the work, to continue sharing her culture, and other cultures.

Her basket The Gathering of Nations shows women in regalia holding their finest baskets. When the award-winning piece was on display, Carol watched weavers pick out the basket from their region. One little Navajo lady in traditional dress bent down, checked it out, and was satisfied. Cultures exchanged.

On Carol’s Best of Show basket at the Santa Fe Indian Market, Cultural Burdens, each of the 11 women represented their tribe by carrying a traditional basket hanging both inside and outside the main basket.

Carol is now in Santa Fe for the 2016 School for Advanced Research Ronald and Susan Dubin Fellowship. It will be a time of research, learning from other artists, and using a new technique in her work: beading directly on a coiled basket.

Always, though, she brings it home. Carol shares her fine art by teaching students in the Indian Education Program, Native homeless in the Seattle area, and elders through the Northwest Indian College. They in turn share weaving with their communities. 

A beautiful exchange.