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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Edmund White Pigeon weaving a basket

Photo of Edmund White Pigeon's hands weaving a basket
Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo of Edmund White Pigeon with a basket

Photo of Edmund White Pigeon's strawberry basket

Edmund White Pigeon
1988 awardee, Hopkins (Allegan County), black ash basketmaker

Edmund "Ed" White Pigeon was a descendant of Chief White Pigeon, a Potawatomi leader after whom a town in Michigan is named. Ed was known for producing black ash woven baskets in a great variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. "If you have a basket in mind and can describe it, I can make it," he said. Ed incorporated a variety of weaving patterns in his work, but he was perhaps best known for his use of highly colorful, rainbow patterns.

Ed learned basketmaking from his father and his grandfather at the age of five. He would sit on a blanket next to his grandfather so his teacher could quickly correct any mistakes. His grandfather also taught him how to locate the right tree, to pound the log to separate the growth rings, and to prepare the splints. He recalled that sometimes he looked "at a hundred black ash trees before finding a perfect one." During the Depression, he remembers being able to easily obtain trees from the Gun Lake and Saugatuck areas, but by the 1980s the trees were much more difficult to find. In 1987 he told a reporter, "When I was young, I put in a full day at work, then came home and cut three or four splints for my father, [but that] now I do good if I can work all day at one."

His wife, Jennie, is also a talented black ash basketmaker. Together, they passed on their skills to their children, grandchildren, and many other individuals in his community, including youth affiliated with the United Methodist Native American Church. The White Pigeons also demonstrated their skills, not only at local libraries, schools, and civic organizations, but also at statewide events such as the Festival of Michigan Folklife.

Over the years, Ed's work received recognition from both within and outside his community. In 1976, at a local exhibit his community developed as part of the celebration of the United States Bicentennial, his peers awarded a blue ribbon to one of his baskets, an honor for which he is especially proud. In 1987, as a gift to diplomats and officials in other countries, former Michigan Governor James Blanchard commissioned eight of Ed's distinctive baskets. Edmund passed away in July 2002.

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