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American Indians teach art of basket weaving

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Posted: Saturday, February 4, 2012 2:43 pm | Updated: 6:43 am, Mon Feb 6, 2012.

Lucy Parker held a willow sprig between her teeth and yanked to her left. But rather than breaking, the twig that had been soaked in water gently unfolded into thirds, and with her fingers she began to create a knot.

Parker and her mother, Julia Parker, are two Coast Miwoks who trekked from their homes hundreds of miles northeast of Lodi to come down and conduct a class on Coast Miwok tule basket-making Saturday.

Parker, who resides in Lee Vining on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, has been weaving baskets since her mother taught her when she was a young girl, and her mother was taught by her mother.

Since it is a generational activity that has been going on for hundreds of years, Parker said she still has baskets in her home that were made by her great-grandmother 75 years ago.

"This is a part of our way of life," she said. "It is only recently that others are beginning to catch on to the history and the beauty that these baskets have to offer."

The class, which was coordinated by Lodi Lake docent Kathy Grant, drew people from as far as Nevada to come out to learn how to manipulate reeds and twigs that had been soaked in water into woody baskets that are not only durable, but multifaceted.

According to Parker, baskets built by Coast Miwoks were used not only to carry items, but to also cook food.

Parker said baskets in her home were used to cook things such as acorns. She said they would heat up rocks and then place acorns inside the baskets to steam them.

Dozens of people attended the class that was kept somewhat under wraps, Grant said, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., they sat around a group of tables and worked to create a basket.

The supplies for the class were collected over a one-year period, Parker said, and people had the opportunity to work with both willow and oak twigs.

While the one-day class allowed some to complete a weaved basket, other baskets with more intricate weaves or designs could take weeks to make.

One basket that had a star-shaped design in the bowl took months to finish, Parker said.

"This is really something special," Grant said. "They came all this way, and the weather couldn't be better. This is not something you get to see every day."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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