Chewey, OK Basket weaver Vivian Garner Cottrell credits
her mother for teaching her how to make Cherokee baskets the way
they were made before European contact.
Cottrell has been weaving baskets since 1973 when she was in
eighth grade. Her mother, Betty Scraper Garner, who was named a
Cherokee National Treasure in 1993 for basketry, taught her how
to make baskets using white oak splits and honeysuckle and buck
brush "runners" or reed.
"We started out using commercial reed until my abilities became
more developed, and then we started gathering honeysuckle and preparing
it and dyeing it with the natural dyes black walnut, different
berries, wild cherry, mulberries and bois d'arc for the yellows,"
she said. "I didn't know back in the early (19)70s that it (Cherokee
basket weaving) was almost gone. Over the years I've seen the numbers
increase in weavers, which is good."
She and her mom would gather honeysuckle runners, soak them
in water and then pull each runner through a rough cleaning pad
to remove the bark. After the runners dried, they would roll them
and tie them until they needed the honeysuckle for weaving.
Jobs were scarce when Cottrell was a teenager, so she said basket
weaving was her job.
"In the summer I would weave baskets and sell them to the gift
shops. My mother would take me here and there and we would sell
them. The price back then was between $5 and $7 or $10. If I had
a lid on it, it was $15," she said. "I saved the money from the
sale of my baskets. I bought my first car with my basket savings."
She weaved with her mom for nearly 25 years. During that time,
Cottrell was named a Cherokee National Treasure in 1995, two years
before her mother's death. She also credits Cherokee National Treasure
Mary Foreman, who was friend of her mother, for teaching her about
"She (Foreman) always had a big pot (of honeysuckle) too going
outside," she said. "Many teachers have gone on. I admired their
works. What I took from that was that they were very supportive,
and they would encourage me to develop my own style of weaving."
Cottrell doesn't have as much time to weave these days because
she and her husband travel across the state doing financial and
compliance audits for cities, tribes and nonprofit entities. She
is an accountant with a degree in business administration from Northeastern
State University in Tahlequah.
She still gathers and uses honeysuckle and prefers to use it,
but because of her travels she uses commercial reed sold in hobby
stores. Lately, she said, she's been gathering river cane along
the Illinois River near her Chewey home. She strips off the cane's
outer layer to use for baskets.
"The only time I can weave is on weekends. As far as gathering
and preparing and dying the natural materials, it's on the weekends,"
The first few months of the year mean down time from work, so
she has more time to go into the woods to gather and prepare materials
and to weave, she said.
Over the years she's won first place and second place ribbons
at the annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma
City. She said she enjoys entering shows, but hasn't kept track
of her awards.
"I make one-of-a-kind baskets. I try not to make the same basket.
Each one has it's own personality," she said. "I never considered
myself a professional. I'm just a basket maker. I loved what I did
with my mother."