Sunday, July 6, 2014

Shan Goshorn’s Photo Baskets

Two years ago there was something new at Indian Market, the annual event in Santa Fe.  It was baskets made out of paper with photographic images on them.  The artist was from Tulsa, Oklahoma of Eastern Cherokee heritage, her name Shan Goshorn.  She was, as far as we knew a basket maker.  She had just won first prize for Innovation.

Now she has an exhibition of her work called “We Hold these Truths” at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe.  My wife and I have been extremely taken with the work.  Not only are they wonderful baskets (made of paper!),  they also have images or words on them and sometimes both.  Shan calls herself an activist artist because her baskets often call our attention to issues that specifically concern Native Americans or indigenous peoples in South America.

I took lots of photographs of works in the exhibition but they were taken through plexi vitrines. When I reached the artist by phone and explained she supplied superb images which, as in most of my Missives, can be clicked on to enlarge.  I should not have been surprised how good the images were because her BFA was in painting and photography.  What did surprise me was that she made her first basket only in 2008 and her first double weave baskets in 2010!  I wanted to know what gave her the idea.  She told me that early in her career she had been commissioned by Qualla, the Cherokee Arts and Crafts Co-op in North Carolina, to do a dozen drawings of their baskets.  She realized then that she could make them herself but at that time her first love was painting, drawing and photography and she was making a living at it.

Probably her most recognizable image is the basket that everyone calls Redskins but Shan is adamant that the title is “No Honor”.  For obvious reasons the Native Americans do not feel they are being honored by the name of the football team, The Washington Redskins  and the team recently had their patented trademark revoked. If you put the text together that is woven through the image it has the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary for Redskin and Nigger both say “Offensive Slang”.  That basket asks why is one term acceptable and the other not?!


The sifter basket called “Separating the Chaff”, which is the actual function of the basket shows images around the inside that come from 1960’s reference books about Native Americans and they are not much different today.  The question that this basket asks is how do we, Native Americans, wish to be portrayed?  Are we going to accept these misrepresentations?

In the show there is a set of three baskets called “They Were Called Kings”.  In 1762 three Cherokee warriors went to England to meet King George III.  They made quite an impression on British Society and in their exotic garb it was thought that they must be foreign royalty. Inside the baskets are quotes from historical accounts of their visit and the King’s Royal Coat of Arms.  On the outside are three images of contemporary Cherokee in clothing of the period.

A real tour de force is titled “Cherokee Burden Basket: Singing a Song for Balance”.  Burden baskets had leather or cloth straps so they could be put on one’s back to carry corn, bedding or firewood.   This basket has a compendium of commentary of items like the burdens of the Indian people, high statistics of domestic violence, Boarding School Mission and many other unflattering items but also Cherokee Morning and Evening Songs.

I don’t believe that the artist expects us to read every word though it is fun to “weave” bits together as one looks at the baskets.  It does not take too long to get the idea but for those of us unversed in the history of the Cherokee, Shan supplies explanations.  You can find additional illustrations of her work at

I asked her how come she did not have a gallery on a regular basis and she talked about the pressure she would have to produce work.   In the past 4 years she had created about 150 baskets.  How long would that supply last?  On the other hand she doesn’t need a gallery since she has been getting regular phone calls directly from museums and collectors.  You can find her baskets at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D. C., the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Heard in Phoenix and a number of other institutions.  There is literally a line forming for her work.

Personally I can’t wait to seek her out at Indian Market this August.

Just before Market the Ralph T. Coe Foundation will open an exhibition, “Plain & Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets”.  The exhibition was at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown last year showing mainly Eastern Baskets from the Coe foundation.  The show in Santa Fe will include additional baskets from the Southwest.

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