Wasson Dillard considers herself a "culture bearer"
someone who is passing down Native American traditions for generations
Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians tribal member Dillard, 47, of
Harbor Springs, is about to be honored Saturday, Aug. 14, during
the Great Lakes Folk Festival in Lansing, as one of four 2010 Michigan
Heritage Award Winners, for her lifelong work and perpetuation of
black ash basketry, finger weaving and other natural fiber arts
said it was her parents' influence that led her to discover
her talents in finger weaving and basketry, but she says it took
a couple of twists and turns to get there.
was about 8 or 9 years old and my parents tried me at leather work,
bead work ... all different mediums of traditional artwork, and
I didn't excel at any of those," she said. "But,
my father (Isaac Peters) kept insisting that I had a special talent."
wasn't until later that Dillard watched her Scottish mother,
Mae Louise Ring, finger weaving, that she began to develop an interest
in the art form.
would stand over her shoulder and I'd just watched her fingers
weave, and I said, 'I can do that,' and she said, 'Let's
hasn't stopped since.
says finger weaving and basketry have allowed her to connect with
ancestors who have walked on.
I'm finger weaving, making those motions is all about emotion
... my body is moving in the same way my ancestors' bodies
moved," she said. "When I turn cattails (which are woven
into mats), to make sure they're dry, I believe it calls my
ancestors to see who's doing that again.
a certain sense of connectedness when I do these things that
thing that drives Dillard is her passion to pass these talents and
skills onto the younger generation.
mother told me this information does not belong to me, it belongs
to the Anishinabe people," Dillard said. "It's my
journey to re-teach our people these ways ... I must help people
realize our past so we can see our tomorrow."
eight years ago Dillard and her husband, 56-year-old Edward Peterson,
quit their day jobs with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and began
working together on black ash basketry, as well as educating those
around them about the ancient tradition.
is very, very easy it's about 25 percent of the work,"
Dillard said. "It's getting the (black ash) tree into
weavable material that's the difficult process."
and Peterson go through a lengthy process annually that involves
walking into swamps and thick brush to collect black ash trees for
their basketry. While in the woods they go through an ancient ceremony
that involves prayer and tobacco before harvesting.
they bring the trees home, the labor-intensive work begins, which
includes shaving the bark with a knife, pounding splints, pulling
strips from the tree and shaving the splints of wood into smooth,
hard, hard work," Dillard said.
and her husband travel throughout the United States and Canada to
powwows, art shows, museums, colleges, high schools, junior high
schools and elementary schools to demonstrate or teach their artistry
Dillard is home in Harbor Springs, she teaches only the most eager
tribal members black ash basketry.
teach them to fish ... I take them out into the bush," she
said. "It's so labor intensive; they have to really enjoy
who will be presented a Michigan Heritage Award this Saturday, said
she was surprised when she learned of the accolade.
didn't know how prestigious it was until I looked online and
I went, 'Oh, whoa,'" she said. "It's nice
to be recognized for your accomplishments.
feels good that people from other communities see the work you put
in to carry on these laborious traditions."
learn more about Dillard's artwork, or to purchase some of
her goods, call (231) 242-0408, or e-mail her at email@example.com.