GRAM unveils new basket installment

Kelly Church (left) and Cherish Parrish Courtesy Grand Rapids Museum of Art

The new installment for the Michigan Artist Series at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish, is on display until Feb. 26.

The installment features more than 20 new works in An Interwoven Legacy that focus on the centuries-old tradition of black ash basketry. Some are traditional baskets and others invoke Native history and storytelling that draws parallels to current events.

“The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s exhibition presents the work of two Michigan basket makers who are nationally recognized for their remarkable level of skill and craft,” said GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt. “In Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish’s family, basket weaving has been handed down from one generation to the next, extending back centuries. Their work is especially powerful for the way it balances tradition with their concerns about the environment, both here in West Michigan and nationally.”

The Anishinaabe originally weaved and used black ash baskets for carrying, collecting and storing. Later, their ancestors began creating decorative baskets to sell and bolster the tribal economy.

“The black ash tree is an integral part of who we are, from creation stories to blood memories, to the baskets that we make today,” Church said. “We start with the black ash tree, and we do all of the processing – we harvest it, we process it, we cut it, and then we make a basket that tells a story of our life today. We’re combining the traditions of our past that have been carried on for thousands of years.

“Cherish and I take our old traditional teachings and we combine it with the contemporary stories of who we are as Natives in 2021. We are the largest basket weaving family in Michigan, and the fact that we can carry it on this long, to me shows strength and resilience of who we are.”

In addition to the exhibition, there will be a documentary that highlights the process of harvesting black ash trees and preparing the splints for basketmaking, as well as stories and background information from Church and Parrish about the works on view.

The museum will also host the Virtual Workshop with Kelly Church: Creating Black Ash Baskets on Oct. 19 between 6-8:30 p.m. Participants will learn how to build a traditional round bottom black ash basket with a plaited build-up and woven embellishment. The black ash splints will be supplied after being harvested by Church and her family. All materials and tools will be provided in advance. Tickets are $65.

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