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Cultural Burdens: A Tribute to Native Women

Artist Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole) discusses her award-winning piece. Plus, what’s next for the basket-maker and scholar.

"Cultural Burdens" basket by Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole). Courtesy photo.

Like the complex roles Indigenous women fill within their communities, the “Cultural Burdens” basket by Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole) is full of rich details paying tribute to tribal nurturers, protectors and culture carriers.

“The burdens they carried were important to their people, whether they were carrying food, wood for fire and even children,” says the artist, who lives in Washington state. “It celebrates women and all that they have contributed to our culture, past and present.”

The basket has won several awards, including Best of Show at the 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market and Best of Classification at other markets, including the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix.

The piece, which features 22 miniature baskets of various designs held front and back by 11 silhouettes woven into the main basket, incorporates several basket-making techniques, including coiling, plaiting and twining. The larger part of the basket is coiled with waxed linen thread.

The miniatures represent the burden baskets of different tribes—Hupa, Apache, Cherokee, Klickitat, Ojibwe, Seminole, Haida, Yakama, Penobscot, Paiute and Hidatsa—and the basket-weaving methods they are known for using regional materials, including birch bark for Woodlands tribes and red and yellow cedar bark for the Southwest. A variety of basket styles are also depicted, such as the open-weave baskets from Alaska for clam gathering and the cradleboard basket for carrying infants.

Emarthle-Douglas notes that hers is only the second basket to win Best of Show at Santa Fe Indian Market since it created an official basketry category in 2010. Prior to that, baskets were included with textiles, such as rugs and clothing. Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy) took home the blue ribbon in 2011.

Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole). Courtesy photo.


A basket as detailed as “Cultural Burdens” can take months to make, says Emarthle-Douglas, which is why fans of her work won’t see her at many markets. The artist, 57, stays plenty busy with commissions, research, conferences and workshops—both leading and attending—throughout the year, and will show again at the 2016 Santa Fe Indian Market at booth 525 SFT-P.

This year, Emarthle-Douglas can also be found in Santa Fe at the School for Advanced Research. She was awarded the Ronald and Susan Dubin Native Artist Fellowship and will be in residence there from June 15 to August 15. There will be a free public lecture, reception and open studio for Emarthle-Douglas Aug. 4. For more information, click here.



Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

The winner of the 2015 Native Peoples Magazine/SWAIA Creativity Award brought pop iconography from vintage Pontiac cars into a Native context.

“Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’” is a hand-crafted wooden war club designed and built by Tom Farris (Cherokee/Otoe-Missouria). Dangerously sleek and whimsical, the club’s details grabbed imaginations during last year’s Santa Fe Indian Market.

The top of the club features the hood ornament of a 1953 Pontiac Star Chief; the bottom turns into a tail light.

Tom Farris (Cherokee/Otoe-Missouria) with his award-winning war club, which recently won a purchase prize to become a permanent piece in the Eiteljorg Museum collection. Photo by Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota). 


“I’m taking a stylized image of Pontiac (Ottawa), who most people have disassociated with being Native, and [putting it] in a context that would remind them,” says Farris. “Basically, I took a misappropriated image and used [it] on something I felt was appropriate.”

Plus, Farris adds, he’s always been a car guy with an affinity for the classics, so motivation to create the piece was easy to find.

“A lot of my artwork focuses on providing a Native perspective on the iconography of the dominant culture,” Farris says. “So, when I found these beautiful vintage hood ornaments, I knew I had to find a way to incorporate them into my work.”

The 37-year-old artist hails from Oklahoma. He was born in Tahlequah and, after moving around some as a kid, has lived in Norman since he was 15 years old.

Farris took his war-club art to what he calls “a little more ridiculous” level in his latest work, “Pedal to the Metal,” a smooth black and silver club with orange and yellow flames trailing a similarly colored ball head.

Farris plans to show “Pedal to the Metal” at both the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM booth 435) and Santa Fe Indian Market (booth 245 PAL-N) this year in Santa Fe, as well as at several other markets and exhibits later this summer, including Savages and Princesses: The Persistence of Native American Stereotypes,” showing Aug. 5 through Sept. 25 at 108 Contemporary in Tulsa, Okla. Additionally, the Heard Museum in Phoenix recently added his work to its permanent collection.

For more information, follow “The Art of Tom Farris” on Facebook.


Tasiyagnunpa Beth Livermont (Oglala Lakota) was born in Pine Ridge, S.D., and now lives with her family on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. A mother of four, she is a blogger and journalist focusing primarily on micro-entrepreneurship, civics, sustainability and poverty. Her current project, South Dakota Nomad, may be found at www.southdakotanomad.com.