Featured Artist

Lauralee Northcott

"The Exalted Ruler" Red Southern Basket

Picture 2 of 6

Welcome to the American West. This is a Set of pine needle baskets. The centerpiece of each basket is a highly crafted belt buckle depicting one of Charles Russell's epic paintings. The buckles are framed by natural fiber with symbolic colors in the weave. Having spent a lot of time in Montana, particularly the Judith Basin, where Russell created much of this work, I feel very close to these pieces and the magnificent country they depict.

Many years ago, my sister’s friend gave me a set of belt buckles he had purchased at an auction. This set (numbered #1340) was presented in a nice frame with a certificate. The buckles themselves, made of pewter, were sculpted to represent four Charles Russell paintings.  This was a genuinely nice and unexpected gift. I think he was trying to impress my sister. I love western art and so they hung on my wall for many years. I am a basket maker, so I had a notion that each of these buckles would make a terrific center for a pine needle basket. I toyed with how to put the buckles in the baskets and eventually with the help of my husband solved the problem of making them secure in the basket but still removeable if necessary, for authentication. Finally, the buckles were mounted on heavy saddle skirt leather, ready to weave. Then I waited for inspiration. 

The inspiration came a year or two later at a meeting of our local Unitarian Fellowship gathering when Dayton Edmonds, a native American storyteller, teacher, and artist came to talk. Unitarians believe in the inherent worth of all people and Dayton had a lot of share on this topic. He told us about the symbolism of the “Red Road” which is a native American concept describing a healthy and loving way or path in the world. I have admired Dayton for many years and so my heart was listening to every word. 

A few days later I began. I remembered the colors he mentioned, red, black, yellow, and white so I chose these colors. I randomly picked up one of the buckles and began. In the end the baskets wove themselves. The colors, beading, and patterns seemed to be guided and I just let it unfold. It took about a year to complete the baskets. In the end I was thrilled and little spooked to realize that the colors and their symbolism fitted remarkably well with each of Russell’s paints. Had the colors been done a differently they would not have fitted like a puzzle pieces, which is what they did. There is a puzzle connection because, I harvest Ponderosa Pine needles for my baskets. These pine trees have bark like puzzle pieces. If you stand at the base of a mature Ponderosa you will see a pile of puzzles pieces around the base. These pieces smell of heaven. Mysteriously, I thought, these baskets wove themselves into collaboration with all of life.’

So, the baskets are alive. They are a set, meant to live together.