Yosemite National Park Features New Exhibit On Native American Culture

A new exhibit at Yosemite delves into the culture of Native American basket-weaving. The art of master basket-weaver Lucy Telles (top photo) is showcased in the Sharing Traditions exhibit. Cultural demonstrator Julia Parker (middle and bottom photos) shares American Indian traditions with visitors of all ages at the Yosemite Museum. Photos by Keith Walklet.

A 36-inch-wide basket that took three years to hand weave, restored film footage of American Indian history in the 1920s, and an oral history of native cultural demonstrators are among the items showcased in Sharing Traditions, a new exhibit in Yosemite National Park.

The exhibit, at the Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Valley, celebrates the 80-year history of the park's basket-weaving demonstrators and their role in conveying American Indian culture to the public.

The nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy provided $100,000 to create the exhibit.

“Contributions from our donors enable us to preserve the park’s cultural history and enhance the visitor experience,” said Mike Tollefson, president of Yosemite Conservancy.

The exhibit is free and open to the public through the end of October.

"Sharing Traditions depicts the history of weaving demonstrators in the park from 1929 to the present, examining their critical role as American Indian liaisons to the public and giving visitors the opportunity to connect to the region’s culture,” said Don Neubacher, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

Sharing Traditions is told primarily through three women — Maggie Howard (1870-1947), Lucy Telles (1885-1955) and Julia Parker — all of whom have worked in Yosemite National Park and created countless baskets currently housed in the museum’s collection.

Ms. Parker, 84, is the park’s longest-serving current employee and has dedicated her life to ensuring American Indian culture and basket-weaving skills passed down from her elders continue to flourish.

“What these women did is a story that should be heard because of the artistic ability they had,” she said.

Ms. Telles’ 36 inch-wide basket made from roots, redbud, and willow is the largest known basklet to have been woven from the Yosemite region and was exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939. One of Ms. Howard’s cradlebaskets on display was made in 1938 for the daughter of a Yosemite ranger with a rag doll inside trimmed with Ms. Howard’s own hair. Ms. Parker’s baskets have been on display at the Smithsonian Institution and are in the Queen of England’s collection.

Since 1960, Ms. Parker has been sharing Yosemite’s cultural history with visitors and demonstrating basket-weaving techniques at the Yosemite Museum.

“When visitors leave I want them to have a better understanding about the baskets and about the plants we have in Yosemite,” she said. “Then they’ll have more caring and more love for the Valley that has protected these plants for us.”

Audio and video materials that are part of the exhibit convey a greater depth of Yosemite’s cultural diversity. Visitors can view archived film footage and photographs of the weavers, and hear an oral history by Ms. Parker describing the work of Ms. Howard and Ms. Telles and the changes in appreciation of American Indian basketry.

Comments

It was wonderful to jump on to Traveler this morning and discovering that Julia Parker is still going strong. If she has not already been named as an American Historical Treasure, she should be.

Agree Lee, Julia Parker and the entire Parker family is an amazing group, I think there is a grandson who will be asked to try out for the US Olympic Snowboarding Team. In any case many kudo's to all the Parker's and their accomplishments in maintaining the traditional cultural skills of the local native americans. It is truly remarkable.

The huge basket behind her right shoulder in the first photo is really amazing-- It would be interesting to know the history of it?