Basket making is a heritage, a tradition passed on from generation to generation. The artistry and design can be in relation to an area or to an individual's own design or feeling. But to ably create such an object for a useful meaningful purpose and fully understand that purpose can only come from a unique people placed on this earth to convey a small portion of that immensity which is Life." -- Russell Jim, Tribal Councilman, Yakama Indian Nation in The Heritage of Klickitat Basketry: A History and Arts Preserved by Nettie Jackson, Elsie Thomas, and Marie Slockish. The past decade has seen a renaissance of Northwest Indian basketry, sparked in great measure by the Northwest Native American Basketmakers Association. As its logo, the multi-tribal association selected a basket by Yakama weaver Nettie Jackson.
Nettie Jackson, born in 1942, spent most of her early years around accomplished basketmakers. She lived with her Klickitat grandmother Mattie Spencer Slockish, an accomplished basket maker, every summer until she was 12. Later, she watched her mother-in-law Elsie Thomas making baskets, still using native materials and making traditional shapes. Jackson's mother, before she passed away in 1972, expressed regret that her own daughters had not taken up their tribal traditions. Following her mother's final wishes, and inspired by her mother-in-law's artistry, Jackson put what she had learned in over 30 years of observation to work, taking up the craft. Today, Nettie Jackson, who lives in White Swan, Washington, is recognized as one of the most skilled and creative Klickitat (a people who form part of the Yakama Nation) basket makers. She continues the old methods of gathering beargrass and splitting roots of the Western red cedar to make the beautiful coiled baskets of her ancestors. Her baskets cover the range of sizes and designs from small to her large 10-gallon basket. Concerned that the younger generations not lose sight of their heritage, she organized classes in beadwork, feather work, and basket making. She has studied historic baskets in order to reconstruct ancient designs, braiding patterns, and imbrication techniques. "I work on baskets every day, but when I start a new design or a big basket, I am consumed with weaving. I work night and day until I get an idea out. It is always a challenge to see if a design will work."
Nettie Jackson is admired among Northwest Native people as an extraordinary artist, cultural conservator, mentor, and role model. Her work is displayed in museums throughout the Northwest. She was featured in the award-winning 1989 film And Women Wove It In a Basket, received a Washington State Governor's Arts and Heritage Award in 1992, and served as a master artist in the state arts commission's apprenticeship program. Today, she is passing on her skills to her sister and three children, ensuring a future for her family and tribal tradition.
The documentary "Baskets of The Northwest People: Gifts From The Grandmothers" features Nettie Jackson and other basket makers talking about their work and craft traditions.