Native American Basket Weaving at the Ballona WetlandsSeptember 16th, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010. 10:00A.
I arrived in the Ballona Wetlands to see our Programs Director, Kelly Rose, and Coordinator, Christian Alvez, gathering willow trimmings with our honored guest and instructor, Justin Farmer. They were all joined by Justin’s grandson Ryan, our girl scout in training Casey, and her parents, Kay and Keil. The Arroyo Willows along the Gas Company access road were long overdue to be cut back anyway, so the timing was perfect gathering the young shoots that strayed across the service roadway. Ann Dalkey, from the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy was there, along with Docent Lynn Bossone from the Audubon Education Docent Program. Justin Farmer instructed everyone to gather the shoots and bring them to several tables we had set up to weave new granary baskets near our replica Tongva Village, “Sa-Angna”, named after the People’s actual village site in the Ballona Wetlands during the 1700s.
We all gathered and said a prayer, led by Casey, honoring our nation and our Native American Heritage, and the memory of those who perished during the 9-11 attacks nine years ago. It was as if time stood still for a moment and brought me back eight months after the awful attack in New York as I visited Ground Zero. I cried as I did standing in front of what once was the Twin Towers, in a church courtyard miraculously spared by the destruction that fell all around. The air was heavy with the weight of sadness over so many who had died, and the magnitude of loss was almost unbearable. There, standing in Sa-Angna, knowing that there too had been great sorrow and sadness as the Tongva way of life disappeared and many families died under the weight of Spanish rule and the oppression of the Missions. My prayers were for all who suffered that day.
On a happy note, this was to be Casey’s initiation into learning the tradition of basket weaving, specifically to create a new acorn granary basket for our Village. Justin had helped us make the last one – still there, though weathered. This was my first time meeting him and I was just as excited as Casey to learn.
As Justin began teaching us how to start the basket, I was struck by how easy it came to him, manipulating the willow branches, showing us which ones to use. He placed the basket in Casey’s hands and guided her through the motions until she was practically doing it alone. Gently, he would intervene when she was not quite tightening one area or letting one set of bundled branches hang too loose, telling us stories and jokes and having everyone laughing the whole time. Others began baskets, and then we took a break for lunch, thanks to Casey’s Mom.
Over the years the Friends had accumulated some stone artifacts that were purported to be from local Indians. Some might have been found on the site by the late Mary Thomson, some may have been given to her, we weren’t really sure. In addition to having Justin, an Ipai Northern Diegueño Indian, we also had another guest, Philippe Lapin, an archeologist with Southern California Edison. Philippe came to learn about basketry, and was compelled to speak about what each of the artifacts was probably used for. Justin joined in and the dialogue between the two was magical, going back and forth between myth and stories and traditions. We were all spellbound by their knowledge, especially Justin’s deep understanding of the spirit of the people who lived there and used these tools and made these baskets as part of their survival in every day life.
I went off with Barbara Courtois, a seasoned Docent veteran and Co-Manager of the Audubon Ballona Docent Education Program, at one point to trim another trail of some branches, and when we came back there were three baskets in the works and Casey’s was almost done. Very ceremoniously Justin taught her how to end it, and we all laughed at how simple that process was. We took photos and stood around and talked, and then Casey’s Mom and Kelly, our Programs Director, gave gifts to Justin and Ryan as a thank you for coming to teach us and share their generosity of spirit.
Justin, it turns out, has written several books about Indian basketry. “Southern California Luiseno Indian Baskets” is hard to get but is available on Amazon. Justin has another one in the works about basketry with a working title, “Material Preparation and Use Mission Style.” He also has his own foundation, which he never once told us about – no bragging from this man, called The Justin Farmer Foundation.
If you go to his website you will discover another wonderful side of this kind and generous man: http://www.howka.com/artists/biographies/justin_farmer/
So ended the first part of a very special day in the Ballona Wetlands. In the afternoon I stayed to assist staff, Patrick Tyrrell had joined us, during our Open House Tour from 2P-4P, and we showed off our new basket (thanks to Casey) to the fifteen visitors who came by to stroll through and learn about Ballona.
Executive Director, Friends of Ballona
Posted: September 16th, 2010 under News From The Friends And Ballona.