When Carrie was pregnant with her first born daughter, Rain, she learned the art of making a sweet grass basket. She was eager become a new mother, a caretaker, and a life giver while learning from the matriarchs of her family. Her Aunt’s house smelled of “splint, sweet grass, and Camel Turkish silvers.” These were her first few steps into womanhood. The baskets are a piece of her heart and she filled it the strength and hope for a future that would hold her family close and a legacy that remained positive and rewarding for her children.
Carrie explained how every step of the basket making process involves her relatives. Her Uncle gets the splint and makes her mold cutters. “I like to keep it a family trade because it means more to me.” The other day her brother offered to pay for her splint. “It feels good supporting one and other, there’s a comfort level in building each other up.”
The peace and calm that this creative process brings into her world Carrie describes as the comfort zone that consists of a centering with no distractions from outside world. Her hands will bleed and nails will crack, but she keeps going, the image in her mind of the completed basket clear in her mind. Occasionally a friend or my daughters will join in with their pottery at my kitchen table work station. I take comfort in only hearing the rhythm of our breathing while we work in silence.” Carrie said.
Passed down generationally, the artistry of basket making has provided many opportunities for Carrie to teach her skills and the cultural significance to audiences across Turtle Island. Carrie credits her experience working at a cottage in Blue Mountain as the onset of many invitations to demonstrate throughout New York State and Canada. Her arms open to the family experiences that grow from the basket making trade. She has traveled with her girls out to Victor, New York to sell baskets at the Ganondagan Arts, Music, and Dance festival. The girls would make their own collection of baskets and some pottery all year long and keep their profits. They learned about the hard work and reaping the reward from it.
As Rain grew up with Carrie; she is now becoming a young lady with the same interest as her mother has in baskets. “She wants to make baskets now more than ever and that’s what it’s all about, showing my girls that they can have this gift for themselves as well.” said Carrie. This affirmation of passing on her legacy is rich with a bond and important teachings in their lives. Carrie looks away and as she speaks you can hear the time gone by in a single sentence. Rain is becoming a beautiful strong young lady just like her. We often value the youngest years of our children’s lives and lose sight of that as they grow into adults. These old and new memories of them making baskets will keep their bond strong throughout the years.
Her favorite part of the basket making is picking the sweet grass and teaching her daughters the trade. She was taught to give back to the earth if you’re taking something from it. It is a sacred act of respect to the Earth. “Every time I pick, I put tobacco down. That’s how I was taught.” Carrie said. She will take her girls out with a packed lunch and cover their bodies head to toe to avoid the bugs. “I ran out one time and wouldn’t go back the rest of the day because of a huge fricken garden spider that was right in my face!” Carried laughed. The bright green color of the grass and tall blades are her shelter from any storm as she walks through fields gathering blades. “Even on the hot summer days we’re out there picking sweet grass in 80 degree weather, the smell is phenomenal.” With pain still fresh in her voice, Carrie shares, “I took my girls out to pick the day my Grandma passed away. She was everything to me. She called me her Carrie, and I was her favorite.”
She works hard to balancing her roles in life. Focusing on her family came naturally and not surprisingly, she successfully held a career in education. Years passed and this mother, wife, and professional looked around and thought to herself “Was this all I am?” Carrie wanted something of her own. All the women around her depended on these roles as their whole identity. There was this creative voice inside her that longed to speak out. Growing up she remembered her brother being extremely talented in his art and being praised for his talents in the community. She said “I didn’t want to wake up in 50 years…still working at the school with any regrets.”
For years she danced front and center, singing along to her Husband’s music during every show. Hand in hand with their daughters, Carrie is the biggest supporter of her husband’s dreams. Full-time Basketry waited on the back burner for the “right time.” She made a decision to leave her career at the school. Slamming her hand on the table she looks at me and says with defiance, “I am gonna do what I am gonna do and you’re gonna love it!”
Sharing her work with the public always feels personal, because she takes pride in her innovations. “The color palettes come to me in dreams or at random throughout the day; I am watching a show and it comes to me…Yes! Black and Gold foil leafs! Blue and lime green curls!” she exclaims. Carrie is changing her ideas and stands out among the crowd, her personality collides with divine creativity. Other accessories have been a wide brimmed hat and recently bracelets. She is willing to explore other designs such as purses or couture designer clothing. The collaboration with other local business interests her and her willingness to take chances leaves Carrie excited to begin.
A chill basket is more than an accessory it is a symbol that having courage and going after your dreams with your best intentions is a gift to the world. Carrie Hill is a Mohawk from Akwesasne Mohawk Territory and her business can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and on chillbaskets.com.