Wednesday, Apr 02 2014 06:00 AM

New exhibit of Williams family baskets to be featured in Milano Gallery

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Refugia Williams was a well known weaver of Kawaiisu baskets. Known for their fine quality and designs, four of her original baskets are on exhibit at the Tehachapi Museum. Photo courtesy of Tehachapi Heritage League

Opening on First Friday, April 4, a new exhibit at the Tehachapi Museum will feature four baskets made by Refugia Williams. The four baskets attributed to Refugia are of typical Kawaiisu coiled construction, with the coils formed of deer grass foundation, wrapped with split willow and woven with designs on the individual baskets created by combinations of the coils being wrapped with Joshua tree root, bracken fern root, and yucca root.

The large round basket is of the type referred to as a cooking bowl. This type of basket was used in preparing the traditional meal of finely ground acorns into a type of thick stew or porridge by using rocks heated in a fire to bring the liquid to a boil in the basket.

A small oval basket, prior to 1930, is possibly the last basket made by Refugia. The smaller gift basket or treasure basket was returned to the family by Judy Barras many years ago. The final additional to the exhibit is a large, flat winnowing tray used to separate the foodstuffs from the chaff, sand and other nonedible bits.

Refugia was born in 1852 in the Panamint Mountains near Tacopa. She later lived in a cabin in the old town of Isabella after the death of her husband. She and the people of her tribe continued to adhere to their tribal traditions.

In his book, The Rough and Righteous of the Kern River Diggins, Ardis Walker devoted a short chapter to Refugia, referring to her as a "gentle spirit." Ardis purchased some of her baskets, which she made and sold to support herself. He considered her baskets the most beautiful in his large collection.

Refugia Williams died in Bakersfield on Oct. 25, 1938, at the age of 86, and is buried in the Rankin Cemetery, Walker Basin.

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