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page 142

Everybody's Personalities

A Champion Basket-Maker of the West

"The greatest basket-maker that ever lived," is the enthusiastic praise used by a famous art collector to describe Mary, a Pomo Indian woman who lives in a tiny mountain cabin in northwestern California and carries on the ancient craft of her people. The basketry of the Pomos has never been excelled, and Mary's work represents the highest point of their marvelous achievement. She knows every step in the laborious process from the gathering of fiber threads and the peeling and curing of willow shoots to the last finishing touch of the close and complicated weaving. She knows the interesting decorative designs which have been handed down from generation to generation of basketmakers. Her baskets are in museum collections all over the country and have brought high prices because of their exceptional workmanship. One of the finest of Mary's baskets was three years in the making.

Miss Grace Nicholson, an art dealer of Pasadena, has done much to aid the Indian woman and has been largely responsible for her excellent products. At one time Mary was slowly going blind. The medicine men of the tribe had done their best--or worst--to no avail. Soon she would be unable to weave. She would have to give up the work in which she took such pride and she would lose all the great sunlit world of trees and birds and grasses. Mary's heart was very sad, and William, Mary's husband, was in despair. With great difficulty Miss Nicholson persuaded Mary to have an operation and she also paid for it and for all the care and treatment which restored the Indian woman's sight.

In order to inspire the best possible results, Miss Nicholson paid Mary twice as much for really fine baskets as for those ordinarily made. She also provided living expenses so that Mary could work on a basket as long as necessary, instead of being forced to finish and sell it quickly. In this way the splendid old craft was brought to its wonderful perfection at a time when most of Indians were beginning to forget the skill of their fathers. 

In the primitive life of the Pomo, baskets held a very important place, and this fact doubtless accounts for the endless care expended in their manufacture. The Pomo baby was cradled in a papoose basket and made his first journeys in it, jogging along on his mother's back. His house was a huge thatched basket that kept out the storm, and his toys were baskets modeled after the large ones in use about the camp. He ate from a da-la or flat basket and drank from a tci-ma or round one. The Pomo's meal was ground in a mortar basket, his fish and meat were cooked in great food bowls, and a large tci-ma was his water-pail. Fish were caught in huge fish-net baskets, [[meal?]] was winnowed in large winnowing baskets and sifted in a pa-se or basket sieve. Conical [[burden?]] baskets carried the Pomo's belongings when he traveled and were used as a white man uses a wagon or a wheelbarrow. Garden fences were of wicker and game traps were long cylindrical baskets. The art of basketry applied to heavy reeds produced graceful, watertight canoes. 

Mythology was woven into the meshes of the Pomo's baskets and the riches spoils of the chase were used for their adornment. On their treasured gift-baskets the Pomos used brilliant bird feathers and also their precious money made of abalone shells from distant seashores. Mary's baskets are woven on a frame-work

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[[image]] Mary, a Squaw of the California Pomo Indians is holding one of her brilliant willow baskets which may some day become a museum piece.