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Monday, September 9, 2013

First Portrait.

The Why and How of The First Portraits.

Dat so la Lee
Acrylic on canvas

Because she is the most noted of the Washoe Basket Weavers, Dat so la Lee has become my first subject.  I want to give you some historical information about this famous Washoe Basket maker who is recognized throughout the country as among the most skilled traditional basket weavers to date..... much of this information comes from several different articles written by Carol Van Etten, Rachelle Larson, 

I began with pencil sketches based on photographs

"The Quiet One", Debuda, was born sometime between 1825 and 1850 near Lake Tahoe.  Details about her girlhood  have vanished however it is known that she spent much of her adult life working as a housekeeper and cleaning woman.  

After sketching my composition onto the canvas pigment is laid down focusing on dark and light areas.  Some of the features begin to take shape.  At this point I work very quickly and try to focus on anything but the fact this is a face.

Not wanting to reveal their given names to the white man, Indians frequently took on names of friends or employers.  It is said that Dr. S.L. Lee was the first white man to admire Debuda's work, hence she selected Dat so la Lee as her name.  When she married Charley Keyser she took the name Louisa Keyser.  Primarily you see her referred to as Dat so la Lee, or Louisa Keyser and she is sometimes referred to as The Queen of the Washoe Basketmakers.  Her baskets have the initials LK woven into them as her signature.

Layers of pigment and the features bring the face to life.

In 1895 Abe Cohn, a prominent Carson City merchant was introduced to the baskets crafted by this Indian woman.  He aggressively marketed Dat so la Lee's work concocting colorful stories and legends to describe her designs.  Her baskets gained international interest as an art form and what was  originally selling for a few dollars began to sell for more. 

A collection of baskets created by Dot so la Lee

At the beginning of each summer, Dat so la Lee, Charley and their little dog would make the trip over the pass from Carson City, cross Tahoe by steamer to Tahoe City where Johnny Hurley's boathouse, at the mouth of the Truckee River, had been rented by Cohn for their use.   In this building, dressed in voluminous skirts, Dot so la lee would weave baskets at a steady, untiring pace, using fingernails, awl, lips and teeth to work willow, birch and fern.  These baskets would be sold through Cohn's curio shops.

Dat so la Lee was frequently photographed wearing a head scarf.  I am choosing to paint this portrait with a scarf, however I am using a design element from one of her baskets as the decoration on the scarf material.  This is my fabrication, not something that is seen in the photos.

During the early 1920's, an appreciation for Indian art began to surface and the superior skill evident in Dat so la Lee's baskets began to command four-digit price tags.  Yet, she continue to live out her inglorious days in the employ of Abe Cohn, weaving legends of the Washoe people into beautiful, mathematically intricate creations to adorn the homes of white people who did not understand the dying culture the baskets represented, nor the patient and gifted weaver who believed her hands were spiritually guided.

Additional shadows have been added.

Dat so la Lee departed her earthly life on December 6, 1925 and is buried at the Stewart Cemetery near Carson City.  Her grave reads:  Myriads of stars shine over the graves of our ancestors.  

After layers of glazing, and the addition of high and low lights, the portrait is complete.

The other day I was reading about an auction of Indian baskets which included one created by Dat so la lee.  The expected sale price of that particular basket was close to $600,000.  Experts recognize Dat so la Lee as having been an innovator in basket making because she introduced unique, non-traditional designs and materials in the making of her baskets.    

Dat so la Lee
Acrylic on Canvas

The Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe was home to Dat so la Lee.  Because I live and work in this area, I want to honor the early, talented women, those of the tribes that inhabited this area, the women who wove tribal history into their baskets.  This is why I am choosing to paint portraits of these women, and the first is Dat so la Lee.

Queen of the Washoe Basket Makers
Acrylic on Canvas

Acrylic on Canvas

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