Grantee: Pat Kruse
For more than thirty years, Pat Kruse has been creating birch bark art—the traditional Ojibwe way—by harvesting the bark himself and passing on the knowledge to his son who sews the pieces with sinew. As a child, Kruse grew up on the reservation and life was simple—living as much as possible off the land and learning from traditional knowledge. From one hand to another in the next generation, Pat Kruse teaches his son and shares with others some ancient designs of Ojibwe birch bark art.
Kruse’s mother and grandmother’s teachings instilled his appreciation for traditional ways; and his appreciation for traditional Ojibwe art was sparked when he and his siblings were growing up and made homemade ornaments from gathered birch bark and seeds for their Christmas trees. Recently his work has been focused primarily on creating birch bark wall hangings, but now he wants to focus on basket making.
Kruse’s most recent inspiration for his birch bark creations has come from the opportunity to study ancient birch bark baskets in the archives and collections at his state’s historical society. Little is known of and few are actively practicing traditional birch bark art, and ancient designs are scattered in the archives and collections of museums that are not necessarily readily accessible. So viewing and examining these artifacts at the society and to hold in his hands such an in-depth detail of cultural history, craft, skill and design was a powerful and amazing experience for him. While there, he realized that few people know about or have seen the patterns he witnessed in those ancient works.
As part of the traditional ways in which Kruse was raised, he knew he had to share the knowledge of these ancient skills and designs with his community and other birch bark artisans. He did this in April 2015 at a Great Lakes Culture Keepers conference, which was held in his hometown community at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. There he shared more than thirty designs from the ancestors with artists and culture bearers from more than twenty different tribes in the Upper Midwest region who were attending the conference.
From his year of historical research and study of the old patterns and traditional techniques of basketry, Kruse is inspired and ambitious, during his Regional Artist Fellowship period, to delve deeper into basket making by creating forty new baskets. Also inspired by his research, he plans to work with a master birch barker from another community to learn about “scrape bark,” a technique for scratching into the bark; and he will be learning about the proper tools for this method. Reciprocity is important to Kruse and he will continue to share the ancient basket patterns with his master mentor and more communities.
I was blessed with the chance to work with historic birch bark baskets. I was awed by what I saw. Nobody today makes baskets like this. Nobody knows these patterns. – Pat Kruse