How much do you know about Hanis Coos Basketry?

photo by The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians

Example of a Hanis Coos Basket. Photo by The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians

My best guess, as much as I did before we asked contemporary Hanis Coos artist Sara Siestreem to join the roster for the Byting Willows exhibit. What a big surprise when I opened my email two weeks ago and found a picture of her finished basket for the exhibit; together with a wonderful background story about its meaning!

Excited I tried to find more information about Hanis Coos basketry – not an easy task,  I tell you. A google search resulted in a couple of images on the official tribal website as well as entries on a few blogs with either ethnobotanical background  or cultural focus.

The materials used are spruce root, conifers and bear grass which are all local to Oregon. It seems that most baskets have utilitarian use as storage devices for food, like acorns and berries, or traps to fish lampreys. The decoration consists of  many different designs of mostly geometric nature, some of which can be interpreted as part of a story such as the arrow design.

That about sums everything up I could find. Not much, don’t you think?



Building A Solid Foundation


The natural selection of design dictates that designs build on our current knowledge of art history and cultures that we have come in contact with while growing up.  There was a period in my life that I would equate to an awakening in all forms seen and unseen, of legends neither seen nor heard.  My knowledge of my culture had been a few bits and pieces, including winter Coyote stories, string games, several ceremonies witnessed and as a participant.  It was in these ceremonies that I encountered the raw artistry in creating a sand painting. It was through my grandmother, who was a weaver, that I started noticing the differences in regional styles of a woven rug. It was through my grandparents that I could now see all aspects of my culture in a totally different light.  This, this art, was our legacy in coming in contact with early settlers and explorers!  This brush with early traders and explorers started producing artwork never conceived of before, a legacy that continues today with the current generation of native artists.

The ability to create, interpret and give light to new forms of art is inherent in us, in our genes, and it is a part of what drives us forward.  To keep discovering and to create new mash-ups in art.  For me, 1995 will be the year I found my tribe, the year I started learning and working at the Blue Mountain Trading Post.  I read and absorbed different chants and learned the structure of the Navajo world with fresh eyes, and I also learned the history of our people.  Along the way, I started reading and researching other cultures and their stories and beliefs, which led me to research the artwork of these cultures and see how designs played a role in shaping their view of reality.

Everyone is an artist at heart, but we all follow a pattern, a water faucet looks more or less the same, an automobile has pretty much the same function, the outside determines the beauty, as does the engine that powers it. At the heart of it all are designers and engineers who came together and solved a problem.  Marketing and advertising surround us with brand names, and we welcome new items into our lives and our houses.  An iPhone would not have the same impact it did with our culture, were it not wrapped in beautiful skin, a sandwich would not look good unless its photo/film shoot presents it as the star of the show. From the stove you cook on, to the toilet that you sit on, to the room that you’re currently in, it was designed with a purpose, and it has a name stamped on it.  You can tell from the logo on the product, the amount of pride companies take in bringing you its finished design.  This dedication is built upon years of experience and the only way you can get good at product design is to study and view different sources of design and design theory.

principlesGraphic Design taught me the skills I need to professionally produce art in many forms for clients and myself.  However, I’ve always used references in creating my tool set, and I thought I would share one of those today.  “Principles of Two-Dimensional Design“, by Wucius Wong was a book I found during this time, and it helped me to visualize geometric patterns on baskets and rugs. The book is a great primer into two-dimensional design and helps any artist or designer to create well balanced compositions.  The ideas presented apply to many facets of the art world, from printing, jewelry making, to graphic design; this book will help you in creating well balanced art. To illustrate the theories presented, student exercises are used extensively to show the book principles. These examples show different forms of repetition and form, while maintaining the simplicity and beauty of good design.  While current software easily allows you to duplicate the examples presented, by drawing and painting the examples presented, you gain a better understanding on creating a piece with harmony in both negative and positive space.

Space is important in a well-designed product, a balanced product of our society, whether that be commercial or home brewed is hard to achieve but possible. The brand and identity we create, shape our surroundings and lend to the graphic experience that we call life.  That next logo that you see, that killer t-shirt, a great website, or a painting?  It’s your brand name, because you’re proud of the way your product looks.

It takes 90 days to establish a routine or habit…..

thats what I teach customers day in day out, implementing changes in their facilities. Easier said than done I have to admit but absolutely necessary.

Still debating if we will be able to get a contract with a “niche publisher” for the Byting Willows Book or if we will publish it ourselves, I attended a writers and publishers conference in Camarillo CA last week to find answers to all the questions buzzing around in my head. SPAWN (Small Publishers And Writers Network) sponsored the event and the panels and speakers were fantastic. I now have a “how to” guide when it comes to self publishing as well as learned some nice tricks of the trade and was able to network.

Newly focused, energized and motivated, it is time to find space in my life to write and create. Working from home, sitting at the same desk switching from the PC to the MAC doesn’t sound too appealing, hence I found a nice coffee shop to spend a couple of hours after work each day to move this project to the next milestone.

Ask me in 90 days what I have accomplished 🙂