Weaving past techniques into beautiful art 

Two Mount Currie basket weavers show their work at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

click to enlarge Hand made Vera Edmonds and Hiroko Takaya (l to r) with samples of their work that are available at the SLCC gift shop.
  • Hand made Vera Edmonds and Hiroko Takaya (l to r) with samples of their work that are available at the SLCC gift shop.

Hiroko Takaya and Vera Edmonds spread out their work on the table.

We're all sitting in the café at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), and their art form is basketry made at home at Mount Currie — specifically, traditional Interior Salish work.

What that means is that the materials they used — roots, bark, sticks, pine needles, and grasses — were prepared for months before weaving work could start, and the methods used have been passed down through generations.

Including the two women, the SLCC sells the work of 15 Indigenous basket and wool weavers in its gift shop.

Edmonds unwraps a precious object she brought from home for the interview — a small, finely woven basket with a soft blue and red Lil'wat Nation pattern that was made over 100 years ago.

"I bring this wherever I go, to teach people how basket-making is done," Edmonds says, holding the delicate basket up.

"It belonged to my children's great-grandmother. (She was) my in-law, my husband's grandmother. She lived to be 116 and passed away at least 40 years ago."

Clearly, it's a family treasure.

"Yes, it is. I carry it as a reminder of where I come from, where I started from. It gives me courage and good thoughts," Edmonds says.

Now 79, Edmonds has been making baskets since childhood, but turned to it more after retiring from her work in social development 20 years ago.

"I made my first basket when I was about nine or 10. My grandmother was always making a basket. I used to sit and watch, and play with the sticks," she recalls.

"She started taking me out to dig roots. It didn't enter my mind what I was doing, but wherever my grandmother went, I was right there following her."

People don't always think about roots as basket material.

"You dig them out then you have to split them, peeling the outside off like a bark. You split it into four and groom them," Edmonds says.

At first, Edmonds started her basketry as a hobby.

"I started making baby baskets for my grandchildren. I have six children and I had to make six baby baskets," she says.

From there, she started making object for purchase, such as small baskets, headbands and cedar roses. Edmonds explains that you start with the bottom of the object and weave up from there.

Her work is also on show as part of cultural displays at the SLCC.

"I like to make small things. Working with roots is easier than cedar. It's softer and it goes into shape more easily; it's easier for sewing, too.

As Edmonds talks, Takaya listens intently. She turned to Edmonds around 10 years ago, asking her to teach her Lil'wat techniques.

Takaya grew up in Japan and came to Canada as a language student. The 47-year-old met her husband Ryan Pascal, who lived at Mount Currie, while visiting the region.

She has developed her own unique style from her own and her husband's Lil'wat heritage, saying she had first learned British methods of basket weaving, and uses Japan's rich basketry heritage as a reference for her own work. For example, she will fold birch bark, in a way that is reminiscent of origami.

"I started by using more root, but Japanese people use random weave. I don't split (materials) too much and I use whole things in my work," Takaya says.

Holding up a wreath to show her folding technique, it is covered in bark stars influenced from Scandinavian Christmas designs and ninja stars. She laughs.

"I love using all the local material for this — birch bark, cedar root (my favourite to use), and pine needle. I have grape plants around my yard and so I use grapevine, and also honeysuckle. Whatever I can find," Takaya says.

When she walks in the forest close to home, she sees herself as being surrounded by potential basketry material. But basket-making itself is fall-winter activity, she says.

For more information on the SLCC, visit www.slcc.ca.

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