A colorful, new exhibit draws visitors as soon as they step through the entrance at the Greater Leavenworth Museum, 735 Front St. The exhibit features nine story baskets, eight of which were created by artist Julie Edwards, a member of the Colville Tribe and a descendant of the p’squosa (Wenatchi), Nez Perce and Yakima tribes.
One story basket was made by Edwards’ mentor, Joe Feddersen, a renowned artist and fellow Colville Tribal member known for his painting, printmaking, photography, collage pieces and glasswork.
Edwards and Feddersen created the baskets using techniques passed down for millennia. Traditionally, the baskets were made of native plants such as bear grass and dogbane and used for collecting and storing roots. “They’ve been around since the people have been around, between, I think, 14,000 and 24,000 years,” Edwards said.
Edwards and Feddersen made the modern versions out of yarn and polished hemp. It begins with a knot at the bottom center and then the weaving spirals and grows from there. The yarn is wrapped around a set of hemp warps, then twisted, then wrapped and twisted around the next set of warps, again and again, all while the weaver rotates the beginning basket in his/her hands. Later, the warps are divided into smaller and smaller bundles, allowing the weaver to add in patterns depicting a story. Edwards has made close to 1,000 baskets ranging from a few inches to over a foot tall.
Each basket in the exhibit is accompanied by a short story with a powerful message. “The Soap Lake Story” tells of an unattractive man who tries to woo his brother’s widow but is scorned. When his grandmother helps him grow strong and gain beautiful skin, rather than winning the widow, he gives her a taste of her own medicine.
“The Rock Story” tells of a child learning to manage anger by putting it temporarily into a rock, as shown by her grandma. When the girl later returns to the rock looking for her anger, it’s gone.
The story ends with the grandma saying, “If you go back to the rock and the anger comes back to you, then it should be felt, and it should be given to Creator so he can heal your heart. If you go back to the rock and you can’t find the anger, then the anger was never important and you should just let it go.”
A grant through the Native Arts and Culture Foundation covered Edwards’ mentorship and enabled her to gather stories from elders, make matching baskets and produce a book, “Weaving; Baskets and Stories.”
The exhibit is the result of the efforts of a museum committee collaborating with and being guided by representatives of the Colville Tribe in order to improve how the museum displays the history and culture of the p’squosa and other regional first peoples.
Museum committee member Mara Bohman said, “Rachel Bishop [from Wenatchee River Institute] and I have been working with members of the p’squosa tribe for about a year, meeting monthly to discuss many different topics/projects related to education and awareness about the p’squosa people.”
As for the book, Bohman said, “Julie’s book right now is a rare commodity. We’re in the process of reprinting her book in softback to sell at the museum.”
The museum received $2,000 from the Woods Family Music and Arts Grant through the Community Foundation of NCW to cover the publishing cost for the second reprint of 400 copies. “Julie has generously offered for the proceeds from the sale of her book to go towards supporting the Leavenworth Museum’s p’squosa (Wenatchi) exhibit,” said Bohman.
The Greater Leavenworth Museum board has more plans for enhancing the space. The volunteer counter will be relocated from left to right of the entrance and will be made smaller to maximize space for the p’squosa exhibit area. Board president Matt Cade said the museum hopes to have made the changes, including working with the p’squosa on the details of the exhibit and installation, by January 2023.
Edwards’ story baskets will be on display for one year. They serve as an opportunity to see history come alive and to learn more about the p’squosa of the past and present.
Edwards said, “When I teach basketry, I like to point out to the new students, that at some point, where they’re sitting, someone was probably making a basket, sitting where they were; we’ve been here so long!”