The Enduring Art of Black-Ash Basketry

April Stone (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) is a 2020 Mentor Artist Fellow and has been a Black-Ash basket weaver since 1998. She has spent many years researching the art of Black-Ash basketry from the Great Lakes region. 

After a series of dreams about weaving and teaching basketry early on in her career, she said, “I woke up from the third dream and thought, wow, I think the ancestors are trying to tell me that they want me to do this. They want me to share what I know. After I realized this and said it out loud, I didn’t have any more dreams.” 

April Stone (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe)
2020 Mentor Artist Fellow

In the beginning, my work was all about the baskets, but then all these other connections reveal themselves, and it’s become about so much more.
― April Stone (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe)

During her fellowship year, April has been working with apprentice Liandra Skenandore (Citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; also, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and Mvskoke Creek Nation). When April first applied for the Mentor Artist Fellowship award, her work plan included structured opportunities for Liandra to learn additional basswood fiber art and etched bark basketry through workshops and one-on-one instruction from local artists. However, April was forced to adjust her work plan due to hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions.

Despite the circumstances, the mentor-apprentice pair has remained busy harvesting material and weaving various basket shapes to learn different techniques. During the summer months, Liandra learned how to identify a basket quality Black-Ash tree, then live-harvest it and delaminate the log, resulting in approximately 300 splints used for weaving after further processing.

Black-Ash is a hard but flexible wood that can be bent and twirled into a basket, unlike other wood. The ash trees occupy a unique ecological and cultural niche, but they are in danger of extinction. The emerald ash borer, a voracious beetle, is devastating ash groves across the U.S., making it even more critical to preserve the art and heritage of Black-Ash basketry. April is ever conscious of the relationship the tree has to the region’s water table and a sustainable eco-system, saying, “In the beginning, my work was all about the baskets, but then all these other connections reveal themselves, and it’s become about so much more.”

April and Liandra hope to harvest a tree for Liandra’s community when the weather turns warm again, and people can participate safely in outdoor activities. In addition to processing a log for raw material with the community, they will host a workshop on weaving a corn washing basket. In the meantime, they continue to weave and learn from each other, furthering cultural perpetuation and creative development.

Liandra & April harvesting splint coils from Black Ash for basket weaving. (photos courtesy of the artist)
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