Mike Sagataw, the Potawatomi tradition-bearer who taught me how to select, fell, and transform a black ash tree into weaving splint, had repeated those words as a mantra. "Listen to the tree, for it will speak to you. It will tell you what it wants to become."
Even now, 30 years later, I sometimes find myself complaining into the wind. "These growth rings are fibrous and heavy, but I want to make something light and airy." The wind returns no sympathy, just Mike's voice. "Listen to the tree." I prepare wider, heavier splint and begin laying up a pack basket. The splint does not argue when you pay attention.
Last spring, I spent several months on a sculptural form with overlapping layers of weaving. As I worked, the piece sang happily. It took on a fish shape that began morphing into a stylized boat/pod. I added an outer layer of willow to accentuate the boat shape, and as I worked the piece went silent. I removed the outer layer and kicked it to the corner. The fish shape was happy again, and that is all that mattered.
Several weeks after finishing Pesca Pod, I heard something calling me. It was the outer layer, wanting its own identity. It sang its own song as I wove, and my first piece of folk art emerged: Gator Bait. Its curious open margin is the result of removing Pesca Pod from its "belly", as if something had ripped its way out. Indeed, the name Gator Bait came from a news story out of the Everglades, in which a python swallowed a gator far too large and the snake's belly burst open. This felt much the same, as Pesca Pod and Gator Bait could each exist just fine on its own.
A short time later, I asked a professional photographer to take some studio photos. I enjoy watching people interact with my work, and David didn't disappoint. He strung some fishing line through Pesca Pod and hung it vertically. This simple change in perspective visually transformed the piece from a fish shape into a butterfly chrysalis.
Many artists will admit that certain creations speak to them as they work, and I am no exception to that experience. Listen to the tree, for it will speak to you. Splint does not argue when you pay attention. A happy weaving will sing.
In my humble opinion, baskets are a lot like people. Listen closely, pay attention, avoid arguments, and they will sing...
Marcia Morse Mullins