Kelli Palmer


2012-2013 TAAP AWARDEE

Traditional skill/art/craft: Warm Springs Cornhusk Weaving,
Ethnic Background: Native American Indian
Apprentice: Joy Ramirez

Contact Information

Phone: 541-553-1196 (day) 541-352-6535 (evening)
Email: kabob76@hotmail.com

Describe your traditional skill/craft/art, when and why it is done, and your history with it:

I make Native American cornhusk baskets with dried cornhusk help and rayon raffia, usually with buckskin (brain treated-smoked deer hide) handles.  It was traditionally used as dried food storage used during wedding trades.  It eventually turned into bags, purses, side bags, or horse regalia for show.  I make the smaller show bags.

How and from whom was the tradition learned?

I learned how to make cornhusk basket/bags from my mother, Eraina Palmer during her last class.  She has been my teacher for traditional arts most of my life.  I am lucky she has passed her knowledge on to me.

How, when, why did you come to Oregon:

We lived in Warm Springs Oregon on the reservation for all of my life.

Kelli Palmer Biography

Birthplace: Madras, OR
Birth Date: 11/24/76

I am an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of Oregon but I am a combination of the Warm Springs, Wasco, Paiute, Shoshone, Yakama and Hoopa tribes plus a little extra for good measure. I grew up and lived on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation for most of my 34 years. Influence of contemporary art shines through in the traditional Native American baskets, both the Wapus and Cornhusk that I make.

I would take my mother to her Wapus (traditional root gathering) basket class, sit and wait watching all the ladies weaving until it was dark outside. At that time, my mother taught me the basics of the Wapus basket. I watched my mom for years make baskets but I was too young to appreciate all the hard work. Instead, I drove her to many Native basket gatherings, museums, artist meetings and always waited on the outside.

When my mother was helping at a Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association basket gathering with my cousin, a featured weaver, I helped her by packing in supplies thinking I would slip out the door after she settled in. She tricked me by paying the membership fees and encouraged me to wander around, watch and maybe take a class. I watched all the different Native teachers fascinated by all the people that were drawn to the demonstrations. The feeling in the room was great. So many different baskets, all beautiful! I sat down for my first class and was hooked. I picked up the twine and yarn again, this time seeing it in a new light. It was an art. Now when I travel to gatherings I participate, learn and keep an open mind for ideas.

Soon my home was covered in weaving materials. Lots of string, yarn, twine, hemp. I am lucky to have my mother as my teacher, whenever I have questions I just call and ask her. With the Wapus baskets I experimented with different yarns, with luminous and textured materials, as well as old tee shirts cut into strips. I added buttons, shells, beads – whatever I felt would add to the beauty I thought I saw in a bundle of twine and yarn. I feel calm and relaxed as I twine around and around getting lost in each twist and each color. I love it.

My uncle came to my mom a few summers ago and asked her to give one last Native cornhusk basket class for him, knowing that her hands were giving out to arthritis. I asked her if I could sneak into her class too. I would give it a try even though I didn’t think I would do so well. I just wanted to learn as much as I can from my mom while I can. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed working with the cornhusk. I made miniature baskets one right after the other, and continued practicing to hone my weaving skills. That summer, I worked on my cornhusk baskets and read books researching from the large storage baskets to the show purses that were made in the past.

This medium took my mind even further. I can sit for hour forgetting all around me just weaving, wrapping and weaving more. My mind relaxes as my fingers twine. I get lost in the colors and the excitement when I get close to being finished. By teaching some of my co-workers and friends I can share this feeling of accomplishment. It is just wonderful to see the ones who learn carry on with more baskets. They still come to me to ask questions and share their complete works. I found out that I like to teach and share what I know to those who are willing to try.

I was handed a wonderful opportunity to teach and share my craft for the first time by being invited to 2009 National Basketry Organization Basket Convention in Portland, Oregon. I had such a positive experience that it was a reminder to me of how many people are drawn to basketry for the beauty of this art. The cornhusk basket class I taught had very talented ladies who wanted to learn and incorporate their own personality and materials to the cornhusks false embroidery technique. It was a great first big teaching experience that has encouraged me to continue to weave, teach and learn.

I have been making baskets for about eleven years and I am still asking questions of my mother, reading books and researching on the internet to learn more. Making these baskets just feels right to me and I will continue to learn as I experience new methods and opportunities.

Experience/Honors

Classes Taught
Central Oregon Community College in Bend, OR
Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, WA
High Desert Museum in Bend, OR
Community Classes in Warm Springs, OR
17th Annual NNABA Gathering in Suquamish, WA

Awards/Shows
Honorable Mention, Tribal Member Art Show in Warm Springs, OR (2011)
Juried and Invitational Exhibition, All Things Considered VI show, Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA (2011)
Display Show, Central Oregon Community College in Bend, OR (2010)
Best in Show, Tribal Art Member Show in Warm Springs, OR (2009)
National Basketry Organization Basket Convention, Portland, Oregon (2009)
Northwest Native American Basket Weavers Gathering

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