Willows, beads and buckskin. These are unusual materials for recording and preserving traditions. But a handful of tribe members from Utah's Great Basin are keeping their traditions alive by using them.
An exhibit that visually records traditional crafts can be seen in the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Art at Liberty Park. There are shawls, bustles, moccasins, hair ties, beaded necklaces, coin purses, belt buckles, work gloves, cradle boards, games, musical instruments and basketry. They have been created by some 25 living artists from the Go-shute, Paiute, Shoshone and Ute tribes.In fact, many of these artists were in town Friday night to participate in a special celebration consisting of a reception, barbecue, awards ceremony, entertainment and viewing of the exhibit.
Folk Art Coordinator Carol Edison said the important thing about this exhibit is that it highlights traditional art work being produced by these tribes.
Beadwork and buckskin tanning techniques are still important in their culture and are in little danger of being lost. These items are used by the Indian community for costumes for powwows and other ceremonies. They are also highly popular among the tourists, who are attracted more to the colorful and aesthetic objects rather than the functional ones.
Basketry is another story. There is relatively no demand for winnowing, berry- and pinecone-picking baskets. Plastic bags are inexpensive replacements.
When Edison began her research for this exhibit four years ago, she was pleasantly surprised to find that basketry was being practiced by some of the tribes - more particularly the Goshutes and the Utah Mountain Utes. However, this traditional art form is in danger of being lost, since only a few old women know how to make them.
Decorating with dyed porcupine quills is another art form that is dying out. This tedious technique was used by these tribes before beads became popular in the early 1800s.
To ensure folk arts are kept alive, the Folk Arts Program in Utah received a grant to set up a apprenticeship program in which some 10 traditional artists will be invited to learn and preserve folk arts - not only in the visual arts, but in the performing and literary arts as well. These apprenticeships should be available around the first of the year.
The purpose of the Folk Arts Program is to record, celebrate and encourage the preservation of Utah's traditional arts. And to better understand the urgency of retaining and revitalizing these folk art skills, the public is invited to view the current exhibit at the Chase Home Museum in Liberty Park. "Willow, Beads and Buckskin: The Folk Art of Utah's Great Basin Tribes" not only spotlights exquisite art works by Utah's Great Basin Tribes but encourages the preservation of skills by recognizing them.
The exhibit continues at the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Art through Oct. 16. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is free.