Rena Beers is an elder who makes beautiful traditional cradleboards. She is 98 years old. The tradition of making cradleboards was passed down by her parents and grandparents.
To start the process for making the cradleboard she is given or purchases a hide. The hide is soaked in water for several days. She removes the hair with a draw knife. Then rinses the hide and soaks it again, only this time in cow brain for two to three days. This is the process that softens the hide. The next step is wringing out the hide. At this stage the hide is white in color. The hide is then smoked, keeping a close eye on the hide so it doesn't burn. This process gives the hide a warm yellow tone.
During the waiting processes in the hide tanning, Rena gathers willow of uniform size for the bones of the cradle board. After gathering the sticks, she strips the bark from the willow. When the hide is properly tanned and the willow is cut to size she begins building the cradleboard. When the board is finished she adds a decoration of colorful bead work. While her cradleboards look like collector pieces, they are used on the reservation for newborns.
Sara Barton specializes in basketry and learned the art of making cradleboards from Rena and another elder who is no longer of this earth.
Sara's basketry projects begin with her gathering willow in the winter. This is the best time to get the sticks when the sap is down and nothing is growing on the sticks.The bark is taken off the sticks and they are split.
The items above were made to show the different types of materials that can be used to weave and make baskets. The different colors are obtained either by the material or how the material is stored. The white circle of willow thread at the top of the photos shows one circle of the willow covered in white cloth and one uncovered. The uncovered will turn the brown you see in the two circular projects. If the willow is kept wrapped in the cloth until used, it remains white for many years before it begins to also darken.
|Sara weaving a hood on a cradleboard|
This meeting of Rena and Sara brought joyfulness to me. Not only did I meet two wonderful women, I learned a bit more about their culture and traditions.
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.
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