Perfecting and Preserving the Pomo Basket Weaving Tradition
October 27, 2020

Perfecting and Preserving the Pomo Basket Weaving Tradition

Her Pomo name is Pikha-bthum-day, which means “basket-flowerwoman.”

This is who Corine Pearce (Redwood Valley Rancheria Little River Band of Pomo Indians) is and what she does.

Corine is a 2020 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award recipient. We are honoring our CSA recipients with stories each month through the end of the year.

Feeling to make certain the sliver of sedge root was flat and even, Corine rubbed her tongue over the material clenched between her teeth. The hardest part of the tiny basket was the very first knot. Once she had it going, it looked like a spider. Patiently, Corine worked the material, using a miniature elderberry wood-handled awl a friend made her to pierce the material. She used a beading needle to weave the basket small enough to fit on a dime.

Corine has done basketry weaving for 30 years and has gained speed with decades of practice preparing material and weaving. In the last two years, she put extra effort into regrowing material lost in the recent  California fires.

“I work with many different species of hand-tended, hand-collected and hand-processed local plants,”

“I work with many different species of hand-tended, hand-collected and hand-processed local plants,” she says, “including willow, redbud, sedge, tule, cattails, and dogwood; materials that are impossible to procure from a store, and are culturally and geographically specific. I source all my raw materials by harvesting and tending individual trees, grasses, ferns, bulrushes, and other plants and their habitats within my ancestors’ land base. In nature, these species don’t grow perfectly for basketry. They require training.”

Corine resides in Mendocino County in the center of several “tribelets” that come together for community support, spiritual practice, and ceremony. She is one of the only traditional basketry teachers in her area, which spans three counties, covering over seven thousand square miles. The Redwood Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, where she lives, contains 30 acres of usable land with 30 houses, an education building, tribal administration building, and her basketry garden.

Receiving a 2020 Community Spirit Award (CSA) touched Corine, acknowledging that her work is critical and encouraged her to keep on. She recently hosted a group from a neighboring Rancheria for a willow harvesting class. She was impacted by the story of one woman struggling with mental health and expressed how the class was the only thing the woman had to look forward to.

“I told my mom, and I started crying,” Corine said. “I keep getting signs that this is the right path. We’re doing the right thing.”

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Two years ago, Corine was asked to participate in the local school system’s cultural program and then asked to take it over. Once she was in charge of the program, it went from two schools to all five elementary schools and the high school. She cherishes the opportunity to normalize Pomo culture for Native and non-Native students.

This year, she has done virtual show-and-tell sessions for the students. In one class of 5th graders, Corine was struck with a sudden realization.

“It was on that same weekend, when I was nine years old, that I learned about basketry,” she recalls. “I made my first willow basket when my teacher took us on a camping trip in the Marin Headlands. An Ohlone park ranger showed us baskets and taught us a little bit of how to weave. Then, 35 years later, I’m teaching nine-year-olds about basketry on the same weekend.”

Corine learned to weave by trial and error and from studying family and museum artifacts, traveling the country to find Pomo baskets held in private collections. She discovered a quote from 1580 made by a Russian describing the beauty and intricacy of beadwork on Pomo baskets. The Pomo people made their beads from clam shells then. During the California gold rush days, there was something known as the “basket rush.” When people found there wasn’t much gold, they decided to remain in California and build a life there. A part of that life was collecting beautiful and intricate Pomo baskets. That craze spread with prominent families from the East Coast collecting baskets.

Pomo basketry became a source of pride as the Pomo people perfected every weave and size. The largest known Pomo basket can hold four women standing. The tiniest is held at the Sutter’s Fort Museum in Sacramento, displayed next to a grain of rice. The design is only visible with a magnifying glass.

Along with miniature cradle baskets, Corine makes full-size ones the month a baby is due and is always booked months in advance. When her 15-year-old daughter expressed interest in making a cradle basket for her mentor, Corine was amazed at how naturally her daughter took to weaving. But then, she has watched Corine make baskets all of her life and helped her harvest materials.

Corine’s Rancheria is currently surrounded by fire and is on evacuation watch, but she continues to weave and teach. This month, she and fellow weavers launched a Pomo Basket Weavers Circle. She is also starting a virtual apprenticeship class where she put together kits to send out to create a weave-along experience.

“I’m always driven to perfect what I do because it honors the skill of my ancestors to try to do what they could do.”

“My goal for the new year is to encourage new weavers,” Corine says. “I’m always driven to perfect what I do because it honors the skill of my ancestors to try to do what they could do.”

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Corine’s older sister, Jacqueline Graumann (Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo Indians), nominated her for the CSA.

“Corine feels it is her duty to volunteer as much time as it takes to ensure that the Pomo basket weaving tradition does not die,” Jacqueline says. “She has practiced and shares her knowledge of Pomo history, traditional dancing, and basket making with at least three generations of local California tribes. Corine is a blessing to our tribe, our community, her students, and our communities’ future.”

"Weaving heals us as a tribe because most people in my tribe have no baskets. We are reclaiming our culture through our basketry."

“When I read the recommendation letters that people wrote, it made me cry,” Corine says. “I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were thinking that.’ It meant a lot to me to be validated in that way. Earlier in the year, I was still trying to plan my CSA honoring. I talked to everyone, and they said, ‘Of course we’ll come. Everybody will be there. This is important.’ That was great to hear. Weaving heals us as a tribe because most people in my tribe have no baskets. We are reclaiming our culture through our basketry.”

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