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2010 awardee, Harbor Springs (Emmet County), black ash baskets, fiber arts
Renée “Wasson” Dillard is a highly accomplished master finger weaver, black ash basket maker, culture bearer and educator. Born of a Scottish-American mother and Odawa father, Renée grew up near Grand Rapids. She draws on her two heritages for her love for traditional fiber arts. In addition to black ash baskets she weaves cedar bark and cattail and bulrush mats, makes birch bark boxes, and finger weaves sashes, a tradition she learned as a young girl from her mother. She began making baskets as a child, learning from her grandmother “as a way of life”. Today Wasson weaves and teaches basketmaking full time in order to preserve this tradition. She teaches the entire black ash basket process from harvesting and processing the tree into usable basket materials to forming the materials into traditional patterns and shapes. Her students include two young women through the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and she is a stalwart teacher at gatherings of weavers in the state. Her work and teaching gained her recognition by museums such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways and Culture, and the MSU Museum and she has demonstrated her work at festivals, including at the Great Lakes Folk Festival in the special MSU Museum/Smithsonian Institution “Carriers of Culture” program. She is recognized for her dedicated, effective teaching and for passing on her skills to others within tribal communities and in museum programs, offering workshops to youth, adults and elders through pow wows and artist-in-residencies.
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