SPSCC’s Native American Exhibition celebrates Hazel Pete

by Molly Gilmore

Pete’s legacy continues to thrive through the relationships she built and the generations of weavers she taught.

South Puget Sound Community College’s 2023 Native American Art Exhibition celebrates the legacy of Chehalis master weaver Hazel Pete — and what a legacy it is. Pete passed away in 2003 at the age of 88, but her deep commitment to preserving and developing the art lives on through her descendants and her students. The exhibition, curated by Pete’s daughter Yvonne Peterson, is on view through Dec. 8.

Honoring the Legacy of Hazel Pete includes baskets, mats, clothing and dolls from the 1800s through the present day. Work from throughout Pete’s decades of weaving is featured along with pieces by her ancestors and others by generations of her descendants.

Pete family baskets have been displayed in galleries and museums across the country and purchased by collectors from around the world. But Pete’s legacy is much deeper and broader than any individual work. “With missionary zeal, Hazel orchestrated a renaissance of Chehalis culture,” Gary C. Collins wrote in the Winter 2001/2002 issue of the journal Pacific Northwest Quarterly. “She spearheaded a movement of cultural regeneration.”

Pete’s work and the SPSCC exhibition serve as reminders that Native people and Native culture don’t live in the past. “Our work — and your work — is to bring the information forward, to talk about tribal people in the present tense and also talk about our art in the present tense,” Peterson, a master weaver and a professor at The Evergreen State College, said at the Nov. 27 artists’ talk.

Honoring the Legacy of Hazel Pete shows an evolution of weaving from the 1800s to the present day. The basket at left dates to the 1850s and has been used by six generations, while others shown were made by Pete.

Among the works that vividly illustrate the vitality of Chehalis basketry are a 2012 glass basket by Dakota Marcellay, a 2023 bone-decorated red cedar and raffia visor by Henrietta Sapulpa, and an eye-catching striped bear grass and cedar basket purse Pete made in 1973.

“There are wonderful textures and colors,” said Sean Barnes, who manages the college’s Leonor R. Fuller Gallery. “The patterns and the many forms of weaving make the show very interesting.” The exhibition also celebrates the power of education and mentorship, which is a big part of the gallery’s mission.

Vests woven by Yvonne Peterson, Pete’s daughter and the curator of the exhibition, incorporate wool and cotton along with cedar.

Educating and working alongside others were also vital pieces of Pete’s legacy. “I’ve been doing basketry since I was born,” Betty Pacheco, Pete’s granddaughter and a master weaver, said at the artists’ talk. “One of my earliest memories is making cattail dolls with my grandma Hazel.”

“She taught the art to anyone she could,” her grandson Chris Richardson told the Seattle Times in 2003. “Everyone in the family had to collect cedar and cattails. It’s a seasonal activity and a family activity. It’s not for loners.”

There was a vast amount of knowledge for Pete to pass along. The art of basketry encompasses far more than the weaving or coiling used to make a finished piece. It includes harvesting, preparing and dyeing material, with each step occurring only when the time is right. It also includes praying.

“Sometimes a technique just won’t appear, just won’t be right, and we always say, ‘Now is the time to pray,’ ” Peterson said. “You need to be asking for the ancestors to reach down upon your hand and show you the tech and what is going to happen next. We are praying for that knowledge to be shown to us.”

Photos courtesy of South Puget Sound Community College.

WHAT
Honoring the Hazel Pete Legacy: Chehalis Basketry

WHEN
On view through Dec. 8. The gallery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

WHERE
The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia

LEARN MORE
https://spscc.edu/art-gallery