For at least 18 years, Carol Emarthle-Douglas has been weaving baskets, a craft she pursued to occupy her time after her two boys started school.
And she’s occasionally done a little beading on the side, stitching designs onto objects such as leggings.
But she didn’t think to combine the two until a couple of years ago when she took a class from a Paiute woman at the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association, who covered baskets with tight beaded designs.
“I thought that was so cool,” said Emarthle-Douglas, who is experimenting with that technique during her two months as a Dubin Native Artist Fellow at the School for Advanced Research. She’ll open her studio to the public and talk about her work at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Unlike her baskets, which she creates from a tightly coiled spiral beginning at the very bottom, the beadwork is done from the top to the bottom.
But that’s not the only adjustment she has to make, she said. While her basketry designs line up in geometric forms with straight edges, the beading work creates a diagonal form, so she has been working on how to make that work with her figures.
The design she was working on when the Journal visited, for example, called for green-beaded frogs made up of straight edges, interspersed with diamond shapes in a rich deep brownish red on a white background.
A direct light and magnifying viewer helped her direct a wisp of a needle through a barely visible opening in a white Czech glass bead, anchoring it to adjoining beads in a netlike construction that eventually will enclose and completely cover her basket.
Emarthle-Douglas is accustomed to working in miniature, though. Several of her baskets on display are of a size that would nestle comfortably in the center of the palm of your hand – she showed how she uses her fingernail to split beach or rye grass into slender strips for use in the tiny baskets. Even smaller are baskets dangling as earrings from her lobes.
But she works in larger sizes, too, creating baskets as bowls, containers and other forms that can be imagined in everyday use – or with special decorations, such as small baskets woven into a larger basket, borne by human figures in her “Cultural Burdens,” which won Best of Show at last year’s Santa Fe Indian Market.
That win was a thrill, said Emarthle-Douglas, who added that she wasn’t sure if she will enter this year’s competition. It might depend on whether she feels she has produced something to meet those high standards, she said.
Of Northern Arapaho and Seminole heritage, Emarthle-Douglas said she grew up in Oklahoma without the traditional tribal teachings and cultural immersion that some Native Americans experience.
“My mother was raised on a mission in Wyoming, so she was not taught the traditions,” Emarthle-Douglas said. Her father went to a boarding school in Oklahoma where he was discouraged from speaking his Native language and was not taught his tribal traditions, she said.
“I’ve learned a lot on my own, but I was not raised in the tradition, so it gave me more freedom to experiment,” she said. Living now in Seattle, she incorporates some cultural influences from that part of the country, she noted, pointing out a small basket decorated with whale figures and circled around the top with wave symbols.
That experimentation extends to different materials. “Whatever I think I can coil, I will try it,” she said.
She also incorporates a rainbow of colors into her works, with nearby plastic bins stuffed with ready supplies of beads and waxed thread covering a range of hues.
Emarthle-Douglas said she has participated in the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix since 1999 and Santa Fe’s Indian Market since 2001.
She has baskets in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, Montclair Museum in Newark, N.J., and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
But when she first started making baskets, she gave them away to friends and family until one relative said, “Why not sell these?”
“I knew nothing about the art world,” she said, but entered her first show in Portland, Ore., and won first place in the coiled basket category.
“I was really shocked and surprised,” she said. Making a decent amount of money from that show, she said, she and her husband went out and bought bunk beds for their two sons.
“That got the ball rolling,” said Emarthle-Douglas. Now, she said, “This is my job. This is my contribution to my family.”