Basketry specialist offers online demos
Cherokee National Treasure Mike Dart holds a bloodroot plant used to make red dye for his baskets. COURTESY
Pictured is a basket crafted by Cherokee National Treasure Mike Dart, who is encouraging others to keep culture alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY
STILWELL – A Cherokee National Treasure who specializes in basketry is offering detailed demonstrations of his craft online “to help people keep their minds occupied” and promote culture during the pandemic.
“We are indeed living in the most scary time of my life,” Cherokee Nation citizen Mike Dart said, “and most people’s I would dare say. It is very important, especially in times like this, that we keep our culture going strong. In past generations, in times of crisis, cultural practices often began to wane in some communities because the people were focused on everyday survival. I thought about what I as a Cherokee National Treasure could do. So I decided to start doing free demonstrations on my Facebook page.”
Dart, 43, of the Fairfield community in Adair County, was named a Cherokee National Treasure in 2017 for his ability to produce Southeastern-style baskets from traditional materials. At age 16, he began weaving traditional honeysuckle, buckbrush and wood splint baskets. Dart, who is largely self-taught, works to preserve and share the basketry tradition with fellow Cherokees.
“I use mostly contemporary materials,” he said, “such as rattan reed to make vibrantly colored contemporary Cherokee double wall baskets. I began weaving baskets in 1993. There was a class at Stilwell High School called Multi-Cultural Activities and Cherokee basket weaving was among the activities we participated in. My paternal grandmother was a basket maker so I already had an interest and I kind of understood the process, and I just kind of took off on my own.”
Since then, he’s learned his craft “mostly from trial and error,” but has picked up tips from other accomplished weavers from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In 2016, he exhibited a replica of a large traditional burden basket woven of hand-split oak and hickory at the Chickasaw Nation’s Artesian Art Market. The piece was awarded best of show and featured in the book “Oklahoma Cherokee Baskets.”
Dart typically demonstrates his basket-making skills at major art shows and also at Cherokee Nation events such as at-large community meetings.
“I really enjoy doing that,” he said. “I love meeting our Cherokee family who live away from here. It is very important that we, as culture carriers, promote our arts and cultural practices. Basketry flourishes right now. However, there are very few weavers under the age of 40 who actively weave and promote it as their art form, at least to my knowledge. In 20 or 30 years, basketry could be in serious danger of being lost.”
He has so far uploaded two basketry demonstrations since COVID-19 prompted shelter-in-place orders throughout the country.
“I am planning on at least four, but if society remains shut down, I will do more as I feel inspired,” he said. “I have had at least two of my viewers reach out to me to find out how to order reed so that they can follow my demonstrations and learn how to weave. Other people have praised me and other weaver’s efforts, because they didn’t realize the amount work that goes into even a commercial reed basket.”
To view his demonstrations, search for Mike Dart on Facebook or visit https://bit.ly/2Y3pZwi