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GRAM's Michigan Artist Series highlights the Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish

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An Interwoven Legacy features over 20 new works that focus on the centuries-old Anishinabe tradition of black ash basket making.

/Installation view of An Interwoven Legacy. Photo courtesy Grand Rapids Art Museum.

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The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) recently announced the newest installment of its Michigan Artist Series which opened on August 28, An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish ParrishThe exhibition is on view at the Museum through February 26, 2022, and features the work of mother and daughter basket makers Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish, members of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band (Gun Lake Tribe).

The artists debut more than 20 new works in An Interwoven Legacy that focus on the centuries-old tradition of black ash basketry. Some of these are traditional baskets, while others are woven works of art that draw on Native history and storytelling to make striking parallels to current events.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s exhibition presents the work of two Michigan basket makers who are nationally-recognized for their remarkable level of skill and craft,” commented GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt. In Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish’s family, basket weaving has been handed down from one generation to the next, extending back centuries. Their work is especially powerful for the way it balances tradition with their concerns about the environment, both here in West Michigan, and nationally.”

The artists and their family come from an unbroken line of black ash basket makers. The Anishinabe originally made baskets purely for utility, weaving them in various sizes for carrying, collecting, and storing. As a broader appreciation for Native baskets developed, their ancestors began creating decorative baskets to sell and bolster the tribal economy. Church and Parrish draw on these traditions to create more topical and experimental works. An Interwoven Legacy powerfully demonstrates both their astonishing artistry and their urgent advocacy on behalf of Native traditions. 

The black ash tree is an integral part of who we are, from creation stories to blood memories, to the baskets that we make today,” Artist Kelly Church said. We start with the black ash tree, and we do all of the processing — we harvest it, we process it, we cut it, and then we make a basket that tells a story of our life today. We’re combining the traditions of our past that have been carried on for thousands of years.”

The exhibition emphasizes two of the artists’ primary motivations: the importance of maintaining the basketmaking tradition within their culture, and their advocacy for the black ash tree’s survival, which is being decimated by an invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. These issues are critically important for people whose cultural survival depends on passing traditions on to the next generations, whether through language, ceremonies, or practices like basketry.

Church added, Cherish and I take our old traditional teachings and we combine it with the contemporary stories of who we are as Natives in 2021. We are the largest basket weaving family in Michigan, and the fact that we can carry it on this long, to me shows strength and resilience of who we are.” 

Accompanying the exhibition will be documentary elements illustrating the strenuous process of harvesting black ash trees and preparing the splints for basketmaking, as well as stories and background information from Church and Parrish about the works on view. 

GRAM Members are invited to the opening of An Interwoven Legacy on Friday, August 27. Complementing the exhibition, GRAM Members and the public can participate in several related programming and events, including Drop-in Tours, virtual basketmaking workshops led by Kelly Church, and Drop-in Studio. Guests are encouraged to view the Museum’s updated visitor guidelines in advance of their visit, which includes face mask requirements for all visitors while indoors.

For those who prefer to experience the exhibition virtually, there will be digital resources on GRAM’s website including installation images, a video interview with the artists, archival photographs, and texts.

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Connecting people through art, creativity, and design. Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the art museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Established in 1910 as the Grand Rapids Art Association, GRAM has grown to include more than 5,000 works of art, including American and European 19th and 20th-century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft.

For museum hours and admission fees, visit ArtMuseumGR.org.

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