When Nettie Jackson sat down to weave with cedar root and bear grass, she knew she was passing on a tradition handed down from her ancestors to children not yet born.
Three days ago, her contributions to that tradition came to an end.
Jackson, a Klickitat basket maker, died in her White Swan home Saturday. She was 70.
She was renowned throughout the West for her coiled cedar root baskets, a skill that takes years to perfect.
Her baskets highlighted numerous exhibits, and her work was commissioned by a number of museums, including the Yakama Nation Museum. In 1993 she was winner of the Governor’s Heritage Award, an honor given for enhancing Washington state’s diverse ethnic, regional and religious traditions.
She also received an award from the National Indian Arts Commission.
“She was so creative and lived a big life, ” said Mary Schlick, an expert on Plateau basketry who lives in Mount Hood, Ore. Schlick’s 1994 book, “Columbia River Basketry: Gift of the Ancestors, Gift of the Earth,” featured many of Jackson’s baskets.
“Nettie did excellent work,” Schlick said.
Jackson herself was an author. She co-wrote, along with Elsie Thomas and Marie Slockish, a book called “The Heart of Klickitat Basketry.”
Thomas was Jackson’s mother-in-law, and through Jackson’s urging, she taught a class on basket making in Bingen, which Jackson took. Jackson also learned techniques from her grandmother.
From there Jackson honed her art, ending up weaving hundreds of baskets, both immense and small. In turn, she taught the art of intertwining bear grass and cedar roots to her daughters, several other relatives and apprentices.
About 20 years ago, after receiving an art award, Jackson said, “I come from a long line of Klickitat basket makers. I am passing this art on to my children and to my sister’s daughter.”
Jackson was the subject of a documentary, “And Woman Wove It into a Basket.”
“She was one of the best basket makers of her generation,” noted Sophie Hoptowit, who works at the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center in Toppenish. “You don’t see many cedar basket makers because it takes so much time to gather the materials.”
Jackson gathered bear grass and dug roots from cedar trees on the Yakama Reservation to use in her weaving.
“She was the one who brought it (coiled cedar basketry) down to this century,” Schlick said.
“Her baskets are wonderful,” she added.
Born in The Dalles, Jackson is survived by two daughters, Lawanda Nelson and Sharon Kuneki, both of Vancouver, Wash.; two sons, Gerald and James Kuneki, both of White Swan; two brothers, Johnny Jackson of Underwood and Russell Jackson; a sister, Sharon Dick, both of White Swan; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Washat dressing and overnight services were held Monday in the Celilo Longhouse. Burial was this morning at the Wis-Cum Cemetery in Dallesport. Arrangements are by Colonial Funeral Home in Toppenish.
• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.