Renee Dillard

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

About

Renee ‘Wasson’ Dillard is a traditional Anishinaabe natural fiber artist and teacher. Raised in the Anishinaabe communities of Michigan. The art of natural fibers, and weaving, was passed on to Wasson at a very young age, by both her mother and her paternal grandmother. Wasson started weaving her first yarn sash, at age nine. It came naturally to her, and thus began a lifetime of artistic expression and community teaching through traditional Anishinaabe approaches. Throughout the years, she has also learned from other Anishinaabe community teachers and continues on her path to re-discover knowledge and further sharpen her skills.

Wasson uses various indigenous materials in teaching, and to produce traditional pieces. In staying true to Anishinaabe methods, she harvests and processes the materials herself.  Such materials commonly include basswood, birch bark, cedar, cattails, spruce, milkweed, red willow, black ash, sweet grass and bulrush.  Whichever the fiber, she prefers to teach the discipline in its entirety, from plant botany, environment and weather, seasons and life cycles, responsible-harvesting techniques, natural dyes, processing methods, Anishinaabe stories, songs, ceremonial teachings, historical connections, and related Anishinaabe language. Even when the workshop focus is limited to the creation of the art piece, she provides teachings surrounding all that accompanies it. Wasson strives to fully pass it on to new generations, in the same time-honored manner she received it, and to instill, within each learner, the relevance of revitalizing such Odawa customs.

Wasson has performed countless presentations, consultations, exhibitions at universities, museums, and community organizations. She has taught an immeasurable number of workshops and classes, from one-to-one mentoring to classes of 30 or more, from young children at schools and day camps to elders and families in Anishinaabe communities, often without receiving monetary compensation. In 2010, Wasson was the recipient of the Michigan Heritage Award for her lifetime achievement in Natural Fiber Arts. Wasson has taught, mentored and educated a great number of recipients, and maintains an open-door policy at her home, to those determined to learn.

In 2018 a donated studio was placed in the backyard on her reservation.  Being able to share the entire process including gathering and processing in a familiar environment allows for complete teaching in any season. This helps Tribal communities to reclaim their own weaving traditions on their land where generations have lived.    

She has volunteered a great deal of time and processed materials used to teach, motivated by her love of fibers, weaving and revitalizing Anishinaabe ways. From her earliest exposure of creating functional art in finger weaving, through more than 45 years of various fiber work and instructing others, Wasson is a master artist of Anishinaabe natural fiber skills and knowledge.

“I believe that the knowledge of our ancestors’ lifeways belongs with Native people today.  It is through this enlightenment and understanding of our unique history, which we can begin to heal our community from within, and establish a conscious and empowering positive direction for our future.”

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