Laura Wong-Whitebear

Grantee:  Laura Wong-Whitebear
Native Citizenship:  Colville/Sinixt
Location:  Seattle, Wash.
Award:  2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship
Discipline:  Traditional Arts, Basket Weaving
Web Site: None

Twenty years ago, basket weaving was becoming a lost art in Wong-Whitebear’s community, many of the weavers had concerns about this art not being passed on to the next generation. That’s when Wong-Whitebear became a board member of the Northwest Native American Basket Association. She served as president for six years and also became the interim executive director. As an active community member, Wong-Whitebear is always exploring societal shifts and changes, and looking for new ways of perpetuating basket weaving to ensure that inter-generational continuity will endure in her community.

As a basket maker, Laura Wong-Whitebear incorporates traditional and contemporary techniques with creative innovation. For the 2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship, she plans to teach her apprentice different types of weaving, coiling, twining, plaiting, and shaping with a variety of traditional materials. She also wants her apprentice to reach creative potential within her own spirit and see the possible opportunities as a practicing artist and basket weaver. Wong-Whitebear will have her apprentice “gift” her first woven project to another, which follows their cultural tradition.

Wong-Whitebear’s basket-weaving artwork reflects her community’s development and her own activism. Her awareness of the modern-day distractions affecting youth motivates her to expose them to this art form. Hence, she has dedicated herself to teaching and sharing her artistic practice with others, and created a series called the Indigenous Workshop Studio, which brought in skilled Native artists to share their skills with families in the community. Wong-Whitebear strongly believes that art plays a role in community development, identity, and sustainability. She is grateful for the privilege and honor to have been mentored and encouraged by master basket weavers and other artists throughout her career, and the opportunity to reciprocate by mentoring others.

Live, Learn and Pass it on, continues to guide me in preserving, promoting and perpetuating the art of basket weaving, Native traditions and culture.
~ Laura Wong-Whitebear

Mentor and Apprentice Joint Art Project:

Laura Wong-Whitebear and her apprentices Diane Tomhave (Hidatsa, Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi) and Brooke Pinkham (Nez Perce Tribe) wove a basket titled, i i esh” Her First Basket, depicting a legendary story from the Plateau Tribe told by Vi Hilbert, a Native American tribal elder of the Upper Skagit. The basket was gifted to Seattle University in November 2018 during the honoring and naming of Vi Hilbert Hall. She not only was a revered Native Tribal Elder, but led the way in preserving the Lushootseed Language.