Basket Weaver Stands Out At Indian Art Fair
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 07:17
What some may call “unmanageable” or “taboo for men,” Art Wilson calls his passion. Wilson is a basket weaver. As he thrusts the bear grass and intertwines the yucca, he stabs his half-made basket with the confidence and determination only a true basket weaver could emanate.
Art's grandmother realized that he was born to be a basket weaver, and she did not want the art of creating baskets to die as he moved on in life. After he graduated college, Art began living with her and continued to do what he loved.
As a veteran of basket weaving for 30 years, Art knows how difficult of a living situation he would be in if he were just creating baskets. With an average sale of two baskets between $20 and $40 apiece for one six-hour event like the Southwest Indian Art Fair at the Arizona State Museum, he needs something else to supplement his income.
Art also serves on the Tohono O’odham tribal legislative council for the Sells, Ariz. district. He has held the position since May 2011. Art compares his job to running in the United States Senate, though on a smaller level. Before elected, Art served as a behavioral counselor for drug addicts.
While performing his governmental duties on the Sells tribe, he sells his baskets to people that either also live there, are visitors of the tribe, or are vendors that he has contacted. Art says that Christmas and certain celebrations are periods of especially high sales.
The best way to ensure that a weaver gets the full amount for every basket is to sell directly to the consumer. If selling to a “middle-man,” as Art calls them, basket weavers earn anywhere from a nickel on every dollar to 80 cents.
Besides worrying about sales, Art also worries about getting supplies in the first place. Bear grass harvests after the first freeze in winter, and he collects it fresh between December and March. Yucca is collected between June and October, although the months when monsoons usually occur, like July and August, are unavailable for gathering.
In accordance with tribal tradition, all new weavers are taught by experienced ones. Once they complete their first basket, a private ceremony is held where the student gives the finished product to the teacher. These ceremonies are mandatory within the Tohono O’odham culture if the student wants to be blessed and to continue weaving.
Although it relaxes him, Art says one of the things that can be frustrating is how slow-paced basket weaving can be. Some baskets can take him a few hours, but one basket took him almost four months to make.
If Art could give one piece of advice to any future basket weavers, it would be: “Don’t get greedy or prideful and learn to share” a gift with the world.
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