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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 18, 2002 - Issue 61


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Chumash Woman Finds her Niche

by Richard A. Payne, M.A. Ed.
credits: Native American Times

A Chumash woman, Linda Aguilar, has made baskets since her early childhood. She has made baskets from deer grass and closed stitched with fibrous strands of reed- like grass called juncas, the traditional materials used in a Chumash basket. It was in mastering the use of horsehair, that she found her niche, in the world of basket makers. She estimates that she has made over 6000 baskets, and the horsehair ones sells the best. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen an Aguilar basket, they are beautiful!

The artist Linda Aguilar is a 1978 graduate of the University of California in Santa Barbara. Her baskets have been shown at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, the Stagecoach Museum at Newbury Park, California has over 100 of Linda’s miniature baskets on permanent display. One of her finest larger coiled horsehair baskets with more traditional Chumash abalone shell ornamentation was added to the permanent collection of outstanding examples of contemporary art in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It is no surprise she has won way over 50 "first place" and "best of show" ribbons. At this writing she has made and sold almost 6000 baskets. When South Africa’s Nelson Mandella visited Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley presented him with an Aguilar basket. The Dalai Lama of Tibet was also presented with one of Linda Aguilar’s lovely coiled horsehair baskets. While there can be question that her degree in studio art has had an influence on her baskets, it has been the shear production of so many baskets that has refined her skill into a talent which is second to none. It was this that got her work featured in Dr. Gregory Schaaf’s, Ph.D. (A well-respected expert in Native American basketry) video "A TREASURY OF CALIFORNIA BASKETS."

The Chumash tribe of Southern California were one of California’s largest tribes, but by 1865, disease and massacres by Europeans reduced them to a few thousand. Today they take great pride in reviving their dances, songs, stories and crafts, such as basketry. Linda is something of a contrary, in that she will almost always do exactly the opposite of what is expected of her. Tell her to make a large basket and she will make one so tiny, it easily sits atop a dime. It is these miniature baskets that collectors have developed a strong desire for. Like a contrary she has a rather pronounced sense of humor. This is also reflected in her baskets. In fact Linda believes just about anything and everything can be pulled into her baskets.

This is why she only watches comedy on the television as she weaves a basket. She believes that she could run a risk of weaving negative energy into the basket, if she allowed herself to be exposed to it. It must be true because her baskets are truly works of art and lovely to behold. The use of horsehair is fairly new when it comes to basketry. Linda loves it as a material. More important collectors love it. People who love and own horses have cut the mane and tail and then sent the hair to Linda to make them a basket so that they can remember their favorite horse with an Aguilar Basket made from it’s hair. Linda believes this adds something to the basket and makes it even more special. It is hard to say what makes them so special to collectors like myself. It is the craftsmanship, they are so detailed and so balanced. It surely is their beauty, it amazes how different each one can be. It is their price, they range from a very affordable $40 to several thousand, something for everyone’s pocket book. Mostly I think it is their design, they are very well made. My cat got a hold of one and played with it for hours and did no damage to it. Linda later told me this is common, cats are attracted to them like catnip, and never has one been able to hurt the basket. Several people have even purchases small ones as a toy for their cats. I sure wouldn’t recommend this, but it appeals to the clown in Linda. She has many very famous people collecting her baskets and has won all kinds of awards, but she refuses to take herself too serious. She is simply a Chumash woman who has found her niche. I would agree, but I as one of her very serious collectors couldn’t be more pleased.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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