Cedar Wing

Cedar Wing

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sharing a Cultural Art Experience Through Film

Over the past thirty years, it has been a great honor for me to be a witness to what could be called a cultural revival, renewal, or renaissance, within the local Puget Sound First Peoples communities where I live.   I've directly benefited from this rebirth of cultural and ecological knowledge and the ways of thinking about learning and being an artist.  This 'renaissance' is improving the health and vitality of the members of local First Peoples communities, and the resulting leadership and influence provides many benefits to all of us.

 I practice what I call a traditional living art form. The knowledge of using fibers from plants to make all sorts of material items for specific purposes has been developed and practiced over thousands of years by local First Peoples. A living teacher, living plants, and living students, are all necessary to properly learn even a fraction of the vast tapestry of the threads of knowledge available to those interested. Books are great. I ‘m glad people study intensively, and write things down, and I hang on the written words of Otis Tufton Mason, Nancy J. Turner, Hilary Stewart, Wendell Berry, and anyone who writes about our connections to the land; but nothing can come close the experience of watching the hands of the weaver, the woodworker, the canoe builder, or anyone who is a master at what they love to do.

I’m happy to announce that a beautiful cultural art film titled: Clam Basket, A Story By Ed Carriere, is now completed. This film is a tribute to a generous Suquamish elder and teacher, Ed Carriere, who is working hard to help preserve some of the important cultural and material knowledge of plants and place.

I was delighted to be able to show this 15 minute film to two classes at Suquamish Elementary School this June. Because of their youthful ages, with one class of first-graders and one class of second-graders, I used the film as an introduction to one of my teachers.  I was there to help them learn to weave with Western Red Cedar bark, but I wouldn't be there if I didn't have many generous teachers.  I stopped the film at a few places, for discussion and questions, and also to give students pieces of the cedar branches and bark that they were seeing Ed Carriere prepare in the film.

I spent 8 hours in each class, over four days, and on the last day, we all celebrated their accomplishment of weaving together, by going outside on the school grounds, at the wildly serene Suquamish Basket Marsh.  (Please read the article on this blogs' side-bar, listed in Clearing Magazine for more information.)

 We had a fun time together, and my only lament, at least for students of this age, was that I wish I could have shown the film twice. Once more at the end of our experience, so the students could really feel, after our experience together, how much more they knew about what they were seeing Ed do in the movie.

Here’s some pictures of our time together at Suquamish Elementary School located in the little town of Suquamish Washington.


 And speaking of wonderful generous teachers, many thanks to Bonnie Stafford and Linda Dorn, teachers at Suquamish Elementary.  My husband and I felt  lucky when our sons were in their classes long ago.  Ms. Dorn and Ms. Stafford just seem to get better with time, like fine wine.  I've also appreciateive of the Bainbridge Island Art Education Consortium for providing the funding for this ethnobotany-art experience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

May Passes in a Flurry – A Blurry Month of Growth and Activity


Come to the page and rest, says Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way”. I have desired this as I do every May. In spring, as the anticipation of its promised glories slowly creep into winter-weathered bones, the business of the season, all that is required, overtakes us like a Tsunami. Planting seeds; preparation of soil; regaining paths through our garden as the lushness gets out of hand; gathering inner bark as the sap rises; teaching young people about their connection to the earth through weaving with plant fibers; and taking this years batch of West Gardens Harvest Baskets, along with our produce of spinach, kale, chard, arugula, and cilantro, to market. …Oh, I almost forgot...getting to hear and then meet Wendell Berry for my birthday! Such a month!

Now, I’m at the page to report how grateful I am that I was invited to teach at IslandWood this May. IslandWood is an amazing Environmental Learning Center located on Bainbridge Island, Washington, on the west side of Puget Sound just a ferry ride away from Seattle. Thousands of 4th-6th graders from all over Washington are served an extraordinary learning experience over their 4 day, 3 night stay. On the 255 acres of trails and indoor and outdoor classrooms, small groups of students are guided by innovative mentor/teachers, who lead them through an intimate investigation of natural ecosystems and cycles, ethnobotany and cultural history, with art and science integrated throughout.

It’s hard to believe this was my ninth year being an Artist in Residence at IslandWood. I’ll always remember how excited I was in 2002, being the first Artist in Residence in their Pilot Program. I had just walked the beautiful mile-long trail through a lowland forest filled with Big Leaf maple, Western red cedar and giant Douglas Fir trees. This was the distance from my car to the little cottage where the guest artists and scientists stay when they teach at IslandWood.

After exploring every nook in the cozy cabin - a gas fireplace in the main room, two guest bedrooms, rustic log furniture, hand-woven rag rugs by Susan Snover, a tiny kitchen in the back, art on the walls - I had just begun to unpack my bags, when there was a knock at the door. I opened it with wonder, and there in full smile was IslandWood’s chef, Greg Atkinson. He welcomed me with a basket filled with grapes, yummy oat-bars, chocolate truffles, and a bottle of sparkling cider. Later I was impressed by his demonstration of food-chemistry when he showed students how to turn freshly made lemonade into pink lemonade using wild-rose petals.

In 2002, I taught students to make rattles using recycled juice cans, ‘the weedy vine ivy’, Western red cedar inner bark, and yellow iris leaves. And, each group planted a baby cedar tree in the garden outside the art studio.

This year, as I introduced myself to the 150 or so students I worked with over two weeks, I was able to also introduce these trees that young people like themselves had planted in 2002.  The cedar trees are now 11 or 12 years old, 8 to 10 feet tall, healthy and thriving. It is gratifying to be able to work in context.  To teach in an environment where I can connect students, utilizing all their senses, to the important lessons that native plants teach about cultural knowledge and place.  These types of lessons help us see and how we, as individuals and communities, fit into this big picture.

"An intimate participation leaves a memory as long as you are on the earth."

The Late, Beloved Skokomish Cultural Teacher, Bruce Miller

Thank you to everyone I met at IslandWood,
and thanks to all those who support this type of important work.