Cherokee artist weaves messages into baskets
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 5:57 AM
Each work of art Shan Goshorn makes begins with words.
Words of promises made and promises broken. Words that dismiss and degrade, that sting with their casual cruelty. Words that describe homelands that no longer exist. Words that catalog the cold facts of pain and despair.
All these words get taken apart, broken down and reassembled with painstaking care into objects of simple beauty.
There is, however, little that is simple about the baskets that Goshorn, a Tulsa artist and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, has been making for the past few years.
The patterns she uses are usually traditional Cherokee ones, with names like "Noonday Sun" or "Spider's Web." The weaving techniques are also traditional, although one that Goshorn employs, called the double-weave technique, is not widely used.
"In a single-weave basket," Goshorn said, holding up one of her completed works as an example, "the splints run vertically and horizontally and are woven from the bottom to whatever height you want.
"On the other hand," she said, picking up another basket, "in a double-weave basket, the splints are at angles. You start from the inside and weave them up, then you go back down the outside and the ends are woven into the bottom of the basket. If you do it properly, the basket should appear endless, as if there was no starting or finishing point."
The material Goshorn uses to make these baskets, however, is about as far from the traditional as might be imagined. Rather than using river cane or some other species of reed, Goshorn builds her baskets out of watercolor paper on which she has printed the texts of treaties between the Cherokee people and the U.S. government, maps that delineate what were once Cherokee lands, lists of sports teams and products that use Indian names, even contemporary photographs.
Goshorn has facsimiles of the original documents printed on to the paper, then cuts them into strips, or splints, for weaving. The splints are stored by subject until ready to be used.
"I've always done work that's made very strong statements," Goshorn said. "And, in the past, sometimes the art itself has been pretty confrontational and in-your-face.
"But while the baskets are presenting the same kind of statements, they seem to draw people in rather than pushing them away," she said. "They engage the audience in a new kind of way, so that they want to know the whole story each piece contains."
Goshorn's baskets have earned her a place in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, and in 2011 she won the grand prize at the Red Earth Indian Art Festival in Oklahoma City for her basket "Sealed Fate: Treaty of New Echota Protest Basket."
Goshorn's most recent honor is to be one of the five American Indian artists to receive the 2013 Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, awarded by the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis.
The Eiteljorg Museum has one of the world's top collections of contemporary American Indian art, and it established the fellowship in 1999 to honor established and emerging contemporary artists.
Fellowship recipients will be featured in an exhibition that opens in November and are awarded an unrestricted $25,000 grant. The museum will also purchase work from each of the fellowship recipients for its permanent collection.
Goshorn is also preparing to take part for the first time in the Heard Museum Indian Market in Phoenix next month.
"This is the first time I've gone to the Heard, which is probably the second-largest Indian art market after Santa Fe," Goshorn said. "The thing is, a lot of the work I'll be taking there is already promised to the Eiteljorg for the November show. So I'll have to tell my buyers that it will likely be next spring before they get their basket."
Basketry is only the most recent medium Goshorn has explored. When she attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, it was to study silversmithing. She ultimately earned a double major in photography and painting from the Atlanta College of Art.
"It took me a ridiculously long time to realize I could put those two things together," she said. "I've always wanted to push the boundaries of any media I work with, which got me started with hand-painting my photographs and experimenting with double exposures."
Series such as "Earth Renewal" explored ideas of native people's physical and spiritual ties to the land, while "Honest Injun" was an unflinchingly aggressive look at the racism inherent in using Indian imagery in popular culture.
"I remember one teacher coming up to me at the 'Honest Injun' show and saying, 'OK, I get it. But what do you offer to replace these images?' " Goshorn said. "And I realized that, while my intent with my work was to start a dialogue, instead it was more like a lecture - one-sided and very loud."
While the messages of Goshorn's baskets may be more subtly expressed, they are no less potent.
One basket, woven using the "Noonday Sun" pattern, combined splints made from a copy of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 with pages of statistics on incidents of domestic violence among American Indians. Its title: "Dark Side of the Day."
Another weaves photographic images of bottles of alcohol with pages from the New Testament translated into the Cherokee language and is titled "Two Sides of the Same Colonial Coin."
"This one probably gave me the most trouble," Goshorn said, holding up a cylindrical basket whose orange surface is dotted with images of 39 pairs of moccasins.
"This is called '39,' for the number of registered tribes in Oklahoma," she said. "And the hard part was getting all the moccasins lined up properly as I was weaving it."
But the aspect of the basket that pleases Goshorn the most is that images of the 39 pairs of moccasins that spiral around the exterior of the basket were sent to her by friends.
"They would take off the moccasins they were wearing at dances and snap a picture with their iPhones," she said, with a laugh. "I loved that - the whole blend of something very traditional that is still being used today and this high-tech way of sharing it."
It also speaks to the message of the basket - the spiral of moccasins evoking Indians marching from their original homelands to what is now Oklahoma, and these modern examples of traditional footwear serving as a connection to that moment in history.
"I'm always looking for the perfect medium to express a statement," Goshorn said. "And I love the whole process of weaving. It's very meditative. The only sad thing," she added, gesturing to the large box filled with splints that contain pieces of broken treaties and other painful things, "is that I have a lot of materials for a lot of baskets."
Original Print Headline: Basket beauty
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Baskets created by artist Shan Goshorn are shown at her home studio in Tulsa. Goshorn’s work is in the Smithsonian, and she recently won a fellowship with the Eiteljorg
Museum in Indiana. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Rather than using river cane or some other species of reed to make her baskets, Goshorn builds her baskets out of watercolor paper on which she has printed the texts of treaties between the Cherokee people and the U.S. government, maps that delineate what were once Cherokee lands, lists of sports teams and products that use Indian names, even contemporary photographs. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
“If you do it properly, the basket should appear endless, as if there was no starting or finishing point,” says artist Shan Goshorn of the double-weave basket technique. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
“They engage the audience in a new kind of way, so that they want to know the whole story each piece contains,” says Shan Goshorn of her baskets. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World