Lifestyle

Tuesday, Jan 22 2013 12:00 AM

Rosie Hicks: baskets made by a late Nüwa weaver resurface

Related Photos

Ramona Greene and Rosie Hicks as elderly women in the 1960s

Sisters Ramona Greene and Rosie Hicks as young women standing by a stream in the Kern County mountains.

Rosie Manwell Bernache, Emma Williams and Rosie Hicks with assorted Nüwa baskets.

A flat winnowing basket and gift basket made by Rosie Hicks are in pristine condition. Photo by Jon Hammond

I have written before about the beautiful baskets made by Nüwa (Kawaiisu or Piute) Indian women of the Tehachapi Mountains. Too often we don't know who the weaver was or anything about her, but there is a small collection of baskets that has recently come to light that are all believed to have been made by one talented woman: Rosie Hicks.

Rosie was born about 1890 and was the daughter of Luisa (Louise) Marcus, who was the grandmother of noted Kawaiisu elder Andy Greene, who is depicted on the Nüwa mural on the side of the Hitching Post Theaters on Green Street in Downtown Tehachapi. Andy has passed away, but his son Monty and his family, including daughter Brandi Greene Kendrick, still live in Tehachapi. Rosie Hicks was the sister of Ramona

Greene, who was Andy's mother, so Rosie was Andy's aunt.

Luisa Marcus was a basketmaker who apparently taught both her daughters Ramona and Rosie to be weavers and they both made excellent baskets — the Greene family still has some of Ramona's baskets in their possession, and the Tehachapi Museum has one of Rosie's baskets on display. While Janice Williams, a descendent of Kawaiisu weavers, and I were giving a basketweaving demonstration, we were approached by a man who said that he had some baskets that were woven locally.

The man lives in Kern County and while he wishes to remain anonymous, he did allow me to photograph baskets that he said he believed his mother had purchased from Rosie in the 1940s and 1950s. They are lovely, well-made examples of the Kawaiisu basketmaking art that were constructed from deergrass seed stalks as the foundation, which were then wrapped with split willow and yucca root, unicorn plant (also known as devil's claw) and western redbud.

Rosie saw tremendous change in her lifetime. When she was born in the Kern County mountains in the late 1800s, there were many fluent Nüwa speakers, more than 100 tribal members. There were also a number of basketmakers still at work, including Emma and Sophie Williams, Martina and Rosie Collins, and others. By the time she passed away in the late 1960s, there were no active basketmakers and a dwindling number of fluent speakers.

When Rosie was growing up, she lived with her family in what was known as "the Indian Camp" just east of the entrance to the Monolith Portland Cement Plant (now Lehigh Southwest), and perhaps at another Indian encampment not far from the mouth of Sand Canyon. Rosie is believed to have had only one son who died young, and in the latter years of her life she lived in the town of Tehachapi. Rosie spoke only a little English and conversed mostly in Nüwa. Like most Nüwa women from earlier times, she never drove a car and when she was living in a remote cabin and wanted a ride from Claude Butterbredt, she would say to him "Stop, I catch" meaning she wanted him to stop when he went past her house so she could catch a ride with him.

We are still learning more about this humble, unassuming and talented basketmaker, and it was gratifying to learn that some of her artwork has survived intact and protected and is still in Kern County.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to:

tehachapimtnlover@gmail.com

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