Pokagon Potawatomi Black Ash Baskets: Our Storytellers

Category: Exhibitions

Exhibition Summary

Included with Basic admission

Closes Feb 20, 2022

All ages

Alert

Included with Basic admission

Closes Feb 20, 2022

All ages

Listen to the stories these baskets tell.

For the Pokagon Potawatomi people, baskets are more than just containers—they’re living members of the community. 

Get to know 34 of these handcrafted baskets through first-person narratives that explore the unique soul and voice of each basket. Hear the stories of basket makers past and present, and learn about the importance of traditional weaving to ancestral connection. 

Chicago is situated on the lands of the Potawatomi people. They were the stewards of this land and lived, loved, and cared for it until forced out by non-Native settlers. With much of their land and resources taken from them, the Potawatomi faced the loss of their traditions. In the 1970s, skilled artisans founded the Pokagon Basket Makers’ Co-op to revive and carry on the art of basketry, which continues to thrive today.

A woven tan and red basket.

Proud basket makers and caregivers pose for a photo at a Potawatomi camp gathering (ca. 1910s.)  

Courtesy of Dr. John N. Low

After beating the black ash log to loosen the inner bark, Jamie Chapman begins to pull strips of bark from the log that she'll then use to make baskets. Chapman began learning basket making when she was eight years old, taught by her mother, Jennie Brown.   

Courtesy of Jamie Chapman

Each basket has a spirit, an identity, and a story to tell. I’m happy they get to spend time with you. In this exhibition, some of the baskets will speak to you—we invite you to listen.

John N. Low, member of the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik/Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and caretaker of the baskets
A woven basket that’s red and covered in spikes next to its lid, which has green leaves and stem and a white flower.

Strawberries and blueberries are sacred fruits to the Pokagon Potawatomi people. This strawberry basket by Jamie Chapman is covered in curled spikes called curlicues, which require time and masterful skill to weave.

Michelle Kuo

Heritage and nature are interwoven 

The Potawatomi have always used wood from the black ash tree to make their baskets. But now, black ash trees are dying. An invasive species of beetle, the emerald ash borer, has destroyed over 60 million of the trees since it arrived in the U.S. in the 1990s. The Potawatomi continue to work for the survival of the black ash tree, treating trees on tribal lands with organic pesticides and collecting seeds that may be replanted in the future. 

In Pokagon Potawatomi Black Ash Baskets: Our Storytellers, listen to the stories of the baskets as well as the Pokagon people’s story of tradition and resilience.