Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heard @ the Heard 2011: Onondaga Artist Ronnie-Leigh Goeman on the Dying Art of Basketry

The reason I write this blog is to talk about art and get to know the people behind it.  It is a very special experience for me because I encounter artists who completely fill me with energy and excitement with what they do and that compels me to share that energy with my readers. 

This year for my "Heard @ the Heard 2011" series, I wanted to focus on artists whom you haven't yet met on Uncle Paulie's World.  Of course there are the "usual suspects" of Market, and it's great to see the new pieces they are working on.   But, what about the people working dilligently on that beautiful basket, an art form that in this technology-driven world seems apparently forgotten and unappreciated?  The fun part of the 53rd Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market this year was focusing on finding lesser known artists and introducing their work to a wider audience.  Basketry, a bit of an underdog in the Native art scene, is actually fairly vast and diverse.  It is definitely gaining more notoriety as evidenced by Jeremy Frey's win of "Best in Show" at this year's Heard show and with SWAIA giving basketry its own category at Indian Market.  There are so many people working to preserve this special art across many Native cultures and I am happy to feature just a few!

Today, on "Heard @ the Heard 2011" is basket maker Ronnie-Leigh Goeman, who hails from the Onondaga Nation in Upstate New York.  Ronnie's style, warmth, thoughtfulness and passion for her art, especially her drive to continue her work making Black Ash baskets, grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Taught by her mentor Mae Big Tree of Akwesane Mohawk Nation, Goeman, who works in the Iroquois style of basketry began making baskets when she was a teenager.   She stopped for a while, but when she met her now husband Stonehorse Goeman (Tonawanda/Seneca), also an artist, she once again picked up the ash and sweetgrass for a collaboration, which they call "Iroquois Basket Sculpture."  These baskets are adorned with moose hair quills. The finishing touch is the placement of Stonehorse's detailed miniature carvings atop Goeman's finely woven pieces. 

The economy has greatly impacted artists' lives and careers, and Goeman's is no exception. She talked candidly about how the downturn in the economy has changed her life.  She also talks passionately about her need to continue the tradition of basket making to the end since there are insects from Asia that have been desimating the ash tree population in the United States.  It is predicted that in 50 years there will no longer be ash basket makers because forests can't be replanted for decades.

Get to know Ronnie-Leigh Goeman by watching a brief interview HERE:

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