PLATTSBURGH — Carrie Hill learned how to make traditional Mohawk baskets at age 26 from her Aunt Laura Mitchell at Akwesasne.
After she put her daughter down to bed, Hill learned how to weave fancy black ash and sweet grass baskets.
Now, she teaches the art form far and wide, and here on Saturday, June 15.
HISTORY DAYS/MUSEUM DAYS
The Plattsburgh State Art Museum will host Hill, who will discuss her work at 10:30 a.m. and lead a weaving workshop starting at 11:30 a.m. in Room 224, Myers Fine Arts Building.
A traditional Mohawk weaver and basket maker, Hill is recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship recipient in the Traditional Folk Art category.
Both her talk and workshop are free and open to the public and part of the museum’s New York State Path Through History Days and Adirondack Coast Cultural Alliance Museum Days programming.
At the workshop, Hill will instruct participants in how to make a bookmark.
“To show how baskets are all started and kind of give you a rough idea of how to weave and things,” she said.
“There are two different ways that I teach. It depends. Some people get tripped up on what's called a skip and some people don't. But it's just kind of giving you an idea of how to work with the materials that I use.”
BLACK ASH & SWEET GRASS
Hill was 19 when she made her first basket.
“I was real young and I was a first-time mom, so I didn't really have a lot of time to dedicate to it,” she said.
“When I had my second daughter, I wanted something for me so I asked my aunt if she would she teach me. She invited me into her home, and she had the stuff ready to go and everything. The way it came about it just felt so natural and easy. It kind of just felt like something I'm supposed to be doing.”
Hill specializes in the traditional art of weaving with black ash splints and sweet grass, a practice she shares with the community by hosting talks, workshops and demonstrations.
“They are categorized as fancy as opposed to utility,” she said.
“The fancy baskets are mostly decorative. People use them to put things in them but mostly they look really pretty. The utilitarian baskets are more like the pack baskets. Things like that.”
She has made a couple of pack baskets and has taught others how to make them.
“But, I don't like to,” Hill said.
In the fancy baskets, the sweet grass holds the wood together.
“And the wood is woven like the ribs and the rim and the weave,” Hill said.
“The sweet grass kind of binds it altogether on the bottom and the lid, and sometimes it's braided and used for decorative purposes or woven flat.”
Not all black ash fancy baskets have sweet grass on them, but she uses it a lot.
A sampling of her work such as basket weaving 35 can be viewed on her website at www.chillbaskets.com
“The little fine, fine stuff at the very, very top in the center that is sweet grass,” she said.
“It's also is what is holding it together. At the very beginning, you start the basket with the sweet grass.”
Hill has been making the baskets more than a dozen years now.
She harvests the sweet grass from her fields in the summer during mid to late July or August.
“It's probably maybe a month if you're lucky, a couple of weeks,” Hill said.
“You don't get very long to get what you need for the whole year. It depends on that season, too. Last year, we were able to pick early because everything was ready early because of the water and heat and everything. This year, I'm not sure how it's going to be because we've had such a cold snap for so long. We've not had a lot of water, but we might get more and it will be detrimental to the growth of the sweet grass and it will also effect how it's going to be.”
LABOR OF LOVE
The black ash tree has to be cut down.
“Then you shave it, and then you pound it,” Hill said.
“The whole thing is labor intensive. You're not only picking sweet grass in the middle of summer, you're in a hot field with no breeze and direct sun. It really is a labor of love making baskets. Anybody can do it but not everybody wants to.”
She travels to do teach workshops at schools.
She was a substitute teacher and pre-K teacher's aide, so her basket making has always complemented curricula.
There are a lot of basket makers at Akwesasne.
“We're really known for our basket makers,” Hill said.
“The further away from Akwesasne you go, the fewer it gets. I'm not real sure why if it's an interest thing or lack of materials or what it is.”
Her oldest daughter, Rain, is a freshman at SUNY Delhi.
“My oldest daughter can make baskets,” Hill said.
“She can do everything that I can do.”
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IF YOU GO
Carrie Hill’s artist talk will start at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 15, in classroom 224 in the Myers Fine Arts Building at SUNY Plattsburgh.
This talk is free and open to the public.
The bookmark-weaving workshop starts after the talk at 11:30 a.m. Seating at the workshop is limited. Please reserve your seat by emailing Museum Educator, Christina Elliott, at email@example.com.
The Plattsburgh State Art Museum will extend its hours the weekend of June 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of the Museum Days event, during which museums and galleries throughout the county will open their doors for free to visitors.
While there is never a charge to visit the Plattsburgh State Art Museum.