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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Awards

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Jennie Brown and Josiah Brown
2012 master artist and apprentice
Shelbyville (Allegan County)
black ash baskets

Jennie Brown, member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation, is from an extended family of talented basket makers representing the Potawatomi, Ottawa/Odawa, and Chippewa/Ojibwe tribes. In the 1830s large numbers of the Potawatomi were forcibly sent to Kansas where they were forbidden to speak their language and many of their traditions were forgotten. Those Potawatomi who returned to Michigan relied on basket making to supplement their income; consequently, this traditional art has deep symbolic value and plays an important role in their lives.

When Jennie was seventeen, she began to learn to weave baskets from her uncle, Edward Pigeon. She mastered the skills quickly and has subsequently made many baskets. Jennie regards the basketweaving tradition to be essential to the maintenance of  cultural identity, and she actively teaches the tradition at Potawatomi tribal gatherings, tribal elder meetings, and cultural camps, as well as to her own children and relatives. She bemoans the fact that elders are no longer able physically to gather materials to weave and too many youth are either too busy or not interested to learn the difficult physical work of harvesting logs and pounding splints. In 2008 Jennie selected her daughter, Jamie, as her apprentice.  In 2012 Jennie has taken on her son Josiah as her apprentice.  Josiah, who has grown up watching the family trade, will learn everything about basketweaving from harvesting logs to tribal designs and styles to carving handles and rims.  He would like to be a master weaver and pass on the tradition to others someday.

-Lynne Swanson

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