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Vintage Basket By Emma Squirrel Taylor (1920-2002) Master Cherokee Basket Weaver For Sale

Vintage Basket By Emma Squirrel Taylor (1920-2002) Master Cherokee Basket Weaver

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Vintage Basket By Emma Squirrel Taylor (1920-2002) Master Cherokee Basket Weaver:


Emma Squirrel Taylor (1920-2002) was a master Cherokee basket weaver whose specialty was white oak baskets. After learning how to make baskets in 1927, she produced them for more than half a century. In 1952 she joined Qualla Arts and Craft Mutual, a Cherokee artisan cooperative. In the 1970s and 1980s, she exhibited her work at Qualla Arts and Craft Mutual and at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 1989, the North Carolina Arts Council presented her with a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award. Emma Taylor’s work earned her recognition well beyond western North Carolina’s Qualla Boundary. An article about her work appeared in the New York Times and she traveled to Japan to demonstrate Cherokee basket weaving to the World Craft Council.

Born July 4, 1920, a young Emma Squirrel learned to make white oak baskets by watching her mother, Lydia Ann Squirrel. Her experience demonstrates how tradition passed from generation-to-generation by watching, rather than by direct instruction. She recalled,

“I was about seven years old when I learned how to make baskets from watching my mother. Whenever Mother would sit out there in the yard, she’d be taking out splints. I’d gather up all those short ones, and I’d try to make a basket. I couldn’t make them at the beginning. My mother, she didn’t really teach me how to make the basket; I learned how to make a basket just by seeing.”

Emma Squirrel grew up on Coopers Creek, in the Birdtown community in the mountains of western North Carolina. She attended Birdtown Day School and Cherokee High School. While attending high school, she met Lottie Queen Stamper, a master basket weaver and teacher, who taught her how to work rivercane.

“After I went to school, then I quit making baskets. I wasn’t there to watch Mother make baskets. I was in boarding school. Along the way they brought basketweaving in, teaching it in the school, and I learned how to make a cane basket.” 2

Emma Taylor’s comment—that she quit making baskets when she first went to school—demonstrates the social tension between traditional methods of learning and formal means of education that have been part of Cherokee life.

A day in the woods may yield three good trees

In 1942, Emma Squirrel left school and married Timpson Taylor and began making baskets again. The family lived in the Birdtown community on the Qualla Boundary, lands owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Taylor sold her baskets to help with the costs of raising the couple’s eight children and taught the craft to all five of her daughters. Three of them—Louise Taylor Goings, Faye Junaluska, and Katrina Taylor—followed their grandmother and mother to become the next generation of basket weavers.

In Arts and Crafts of the Cherokee, Professor Rodney L. Leftwich wrote that, historically, “The user of an implement or utensil was the maker of it.” Emma Taylor’s own comment confirms his statement. “The person that makes the basket, she knows what kind to get,” she said describing the start of the process. While others sometimes helped, a basket maker knew best what she needed and usually went in search of her own trees to cut. That search begins outdoors, binding the craft to nature both in process and material. This work takes physical strength; Taylor used an ax to cut and prepare white oak. She explained how a basket maker begins, by cutting a “chip” from a living tree to assess its suitability as a resource. Aware of the impact of her basket production on the natural world, she remarked, “Sometimes we make a mistake…and later the tree dies.” In an interview published by Qualla Arts and Crafts as part of its Promotional Exhibits series of 1969-1985, author Mollie Blankenship noted that Taylor could still “maneuver a double-bitted ax with the skill of a man.” At the time she was 55 years old.

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