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March 31, 2015

Three Women, Three Artists, Three Paths toward One Goal: To Keep Their Culture Alive

To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, March 8, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted the public program Native Women Artists: Creativity & Continuity. Visitors had the opportunity to meet three unique Native women artists and hear their stories.Delores Elizabeth Churchill (Haida), Pat Courtney Gold (Warm Springs Wasco), and Ronni-Leigh Goeman (Onondaga) discussed their explorations and journeys as indigenous artists, while also demonstrating their artistry. The more everyone talked, the more I realized how much I have to learn about Native culture. From Alaska to New York, weaving is not just a talent, but it is also a way of passing culture and history to generations to come. 

Pat Courtney Gold 2015

Born and raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, Pat Courtney Gold (right) does traditional Wasco weaving. She has traveled nationwide to learn Wasco basketry and to be able to pass along the culture. Pat explained a thought-provoking story behind the three colors she has placed on the bottom of her baskets since 2011. “The red, white, and blue base honors the young men and women in the presidents’ war,” said Ms. Gold, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been doing weaving this into her work since 9/11. “Fourteen years later, and I am still doing it. I thought it would last only a couple years but it didn’t,” she told me, while remembering the young adults she knows and who left her hometown to fight. 

Ronni-Leigh Goeman (below) can take months to go from the idea and concept to making one of her amazing baskets. Growing up on the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) in upstate New York, she began making baskets at a young age, captivated by the art of weaving. Each of her baskets has a special meaning, inspired by nature, her culture, and the traditions of her people. Her baskets are made of black ash trees and a mix of moose hair, porcupine quills, and sweet grass. 

 Ronni-Leigh Goeman 2015

“I would never kill a moose to get their hair! People know I work with it, so when they hunt they just throw them in my backyard,” Ms. Goeman assured me.

Her husband, StoneHorse Goeman (Seneca), is the artist behind the little sculptures on the top of each basket. He has created artworks in partnership with her for almost twenty years.  

Delores Churchill 2015Delores Elizabeth Churchill (right) is one of those people you can be around without anyone saying a word and feel good. Who needs words if you have this amazing talent! Ms. Churchill's passion for her basketry is vibrant in her eyes. I could sit and watch her weaving for hours. That is what I did (for a couple hours, anyway). In a few words, she explained the story behind the hat in the picture, recovered from a retreating glacier in northern Canada. The “spruce root hat was found with Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, also known as the Long Ago Person Found.” Delores Churchill is the subject of the documentary Tracing Roots, which portrays her search to understand the history and cultural context of the hat.  

I was stunned to see small children in some way interested in the artists' art and the meaning of it. It must be the passion they have that intensifies and attract young kids. If only one of those kids went home and started weaving something, anything, I am sure these artists would be happy to see that their goal was reached. 

—Claudia Lima, NMAI

Claudia Lima is an intern in the museum’s Office of Public Affairs.

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