Saturday, August 16, 2008

visiting the baskets

Way back in June when Louise and I went to the Breath of Life Conference, we went with other participants to visit in basket storage at the Hearst. Some of the photos were on Louise's camera; here they are.

We had to wear gloves;I was torn about that. I longed to feel the baskets in my palms, stroke them. They were each like individual entities that I wanted to embrace - and I wasn't the only one who felt that way - and it felt awful to be separated by a layer of artifical plastic. The curators gave us two reasons for the need for gloves: first, because early preservation techniques involved using pesticides that might still be dangerous to people; secondly, to prevent the oil on our fingers from degrading the basket materials. I understand both of these reasons. I'm still frustrated at not being able to feel the texture of the baskets. Life is not perfect! And when I think of all the times I've had to look at baskets through panes of glass, I remember that being able to visit these baskets was a real gift.

We joked at the visit that it was like visiting relatives in jail! Only they never committed any crimes (unless it was something like Driving While Indian ...). It was wonderful to see the baskets, to sing to them, tell them we love them, feel close to the women who made them, marvel at their exquisite construction and design ... but then we had to return them to their designated shelves, push the shelf back into the case, and walk away, leaving them there, unused, untouched, in the dark. It's hard not to feel that they'll be lonely, like prisoners incarcerated far from family and land and friends.

Yet they are still working baskets; they are still doing a job. It's just a different job now. Before it was day to day work. Feeding, gathering, storing, cooking. Now it is staying alive so that we can see where we come from, what we're made of, how we got here, what we're capable of, the talent and grace of our ancestors, the possibilities of beauty. I like to think of the baskets as messengers, storytellers. A new job.

Speaking of Louise, she sent me the link for the new Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation website that she and others have been working on. It's beautiful. Many other photos are in the albums there.

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