"While I may be relatively new to the art of basket making itself,
I've always been a human rights activist," says Eastern Band of
Cherokee artist Shan Goshorn, who thinks the two concepts go well
together. And judging from the reception her artistic statements
are getting, she's right. Goshorn is one of 16 artists tapped for
a 2014 fellowship by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. The
honor comes with a $20,000 grant.
"My work over the last 25 years has always addressed human rights
issues, mostly those that affect Indian peoples today, but it wasn't
until 2008 that I made my first basket and 2011 until I got the
hang of it and it really took off."
When she was in her early 20s, Goshorn was commissioned by the
Indian Arts and Crafts Board to illustrate about 20 pen and ink
drawings of Cherokee basket designs. "By the time I got to number
16, I thought -- you know what, I can do this and I can combine
the process with issues of sovereignty.
"The first piece I did illustrated a tobacco compact between
the Cherokee Nation and the State of Oklahoma over the problem of
taxation of smoke shops on tribal lands. I took the piece and wove
a traditional pattern called a spider's web to show how tangled
the agreement was. I left it deliberately unfinished because I wanted
to show how the negotiations appeared. And it was a statement that
worked as this one ended up in the National Museum of the American
Her work has been displayed in many prestigious collections
--- the Smithsonian Institution, the Institute of American Indian
Arts, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the Department of the
Interior. She has also won numerous awards from major competitions
like the Grand Prize at Red Earth Indian Art Festival.
"While my work may invite controversy, my intent is to invite
dialogue as a result of that controversy. The reason this works
is that people are intrigued by the traditional shapes, colors,
and patterns and become interested in learning more about what the
basket has to say."
And her baskets all contain a message, from that of Indian removal
through the Trail of Tears to contemporary domestic violence --
"Everything from concepts of Christianity to the use of our names
and stereotypical images in commercials to a burden basket that
includes the burdens Indian people have carried for decades."
Goshorn calls her work "traditional contemporary"
for a reason. "There's an old saying that civilization is judged
by the art it leaves behind. These paper baskets will last up to
200 years under the right conditions, but they're not about longevity,
they're about creating dialogue now, engaging the viewer to lean
in, see the piece, and understand some of the issues continuing
to affect us today. Some people say, get over it, that was
200 years ago,' but these issues are still relevant in today's society."
Believing that "baskets are perfect vehicles for political statements"
and fearless in her convictions, Goshorn creates her double-woven
art by utilizing materials like reproductions of the Indian Removal
Act of 1830; historical maps showing the downsizing of Cherokee
lands, and student rosters from what she calls "educational genocide"
that went on at Carlisle Boarding School.
One creation, titled Sealed Fate, is made of splints cut from
paper printed with historical treaty documents aimed at removing
Cherokee people from their homeland. The basket interior is woven
from 95 pages -- 14,000 signatures of tribal members -- who disputed
the legality of that document.
Attesting to her prowess as weaver of baskets, Goshorn says
she is one of only a handful of Southeastern tribal artists who
have mastered the double-weave or double-wall technique in which
each basket is formed by an interior and exterior wall seamlessly
Instead of the traditional split river cane used to make baskets,
she uses a wood pulp paper infused with commercial dyes, a process
called giclee where images are generated from high resolution digital
scans and printed with archival quality inks. She says that process
has revolutionized her abilities. "Field gathering natural materials
takes up a huge portion of time for traditional basketmakers, while
my time is spent gathering historical research for my work which
I hope will re-weave Indian history ."
My work has always been a source of personal healing, a place where
I can work through challenges and process ideas. Being a visual
learner, I have found that translating the traditional teachings
of Indian people into a visual format helps me to better understand
and apply these ideas into my own life. I try to work with deliberate
intention and prayer to bring health and balance to myself and others.
It has been gratifying that over the years, others tell me they
have benefited from my work as well.