A Tradition of Basket Weaving

Indigenous artist Kelly Church of Allegan, Michigan is a member of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Gun Lake tribe and is a fifth-generation black ash basket maker. Learning the Odawa language from her grandmother and basket making from her father Bill Church and cousin John Pigeon as a child, Church naturally carried on both the artistic and linguistic heritage of her tribe into adulthood. As part of the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program (MTAAP) in 2009, Church worked as a master black ash basket weaver with her daughter, artist Cherish Parrish, as the apprentice. Church wove this checkers set from black ash, with tiny strawberry baskets for the red checkers and acorn baskets for the black checkers in 2004.

7th Generation Black Ash Basket II

Church's piece, called 7th Generation Black Ash Basket II, was woven in 2005 from white mini blinds, with one splint of black ash at the bottom. With this basket, Church imagines a time, seven generations from now, when the black ash trees are gone, decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive species that kills the trees. If this environmental problem isn’t addressed, the longstanding basket forms and traditions are threatened. Church was honored with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2018.

The Next Generation

Church’s daughter Cherish Parrish has since held her own as a traditional black ash basket weaver. Her art basket entitled The Next Generation speaks directly to the passing down of this cultural knowledge, as she reflects on being the 6th generation to learn this skill within her family. Shaped like the torso of a pregnant woman, the basket is made from woven thin strips of black ash with a sweetgrass trim. When speaking about her inspiration for this art basket, Parrish evoked her descendance from a strong lineage of women artisans that passed down the traditional culture. She wanted to amplify these intergenerational ties throughout her artwork, much like Walker-Keshick and her mother, by celebrating motherhood and childbirth. “Being a carrier of culture,” Parrish says, “that’s what you are as a Native woman.”

Celebrating Multi-Generational Artforms

Traditional artists like Church and Parrish celebrate their multi-generational artforms, and they speak to the countless ways in which indigenous women have fortified the transmission of cultural heritage through generations of indigenous communities. The MSU museum is proud to be at the forefront of the preservation of these traditional artforms and their thriving cultural communities, as well as supporting the Traditional Arts Apprentice Program and Michigan Heritage Awards.

Kelly Church’s 7th Generation Black Ash Basket II is currently on display at the MSU museum through the end of 2021.

Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish’s work is on display in the Grand Rapids Art Museum from August 28, 2021, to February 22, 2022, in “An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish.”

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