Grantee:  Kelly Church
Native Citizenship:  Grand Traverse Band Ottawa Chippewa
Location: Hopkins, Mich.
Award:  2015 National Artist Fellowship
Discipline:  Traditional Arts
Web Site:

Kelly Church studied painting and sculpture in college and not until she listened to her grandfather’s childhood stories, did she return to the family heritage of traditional black ash basket making. Through his stories did she come to realize the importance of baskets to the Anishnabe and thus returned to her roots.

The tradition of basket making follows the annual seasons which lay out what kind of work is to be done and when. The timeline of a traditional basket maker remains within the seasons, and one’s creative goals must fall within the parameters of Mother Nature, unless environmental factors create disruptions.

Currently in Michigan, the Emerald ash borer (EAB) is killing millions of black ash trees. Seriously concerned for the life of black ash trees, Ms. Church has taken additional responsibility and commitment to engage in the education, research and teaching of the tradition of black ash basket making to as many students, and as far and wide as possible—calling herself an Art Activist.

As a result of the environmental catastrophe being wreaked by the borer, Ms. Church’s creative ingenuity in her work reflects a mix of new and traditional materials—vinyl blinds, string, ribbon, photographs, and metals such as copper, brass, silver, and aluminum—and new basket styles. She duplicates traditional basket weaving in alternative constructions that carry the traditions of the past with the realities of the present. She still weaves utilitarian baskets from the past; however in design of weaving and continued teaching, Ms. Church hopes to perpetuate the tradition should EAB wipe out black ash trees as predicted.