A Story of Encounters: Contemporary Arts and Folklife

The diversity of Nevada’s native cultures is expressed vividly through folklife, including traditional stories, foodways, music, basketry, pow-wows, and more. A wide range of contemporary arts also complement and extend from these folk practices.

Beginning around 1914, Washoe basket weaver Louisa Keyser (Dat So La Lee) gained the patronage of Abe and Amy Cohn, who brokered the sale of her exquisite baskets to tourists and collectors, many of whom paid thousands of dollars for a single piece.

Following Keyser, many other indigenous artists began to produce baskets and other woven products intended from the outset as artistic, and not solely utilitarian, objects. The tradition of innovation and artistry continues today among contemporary Great Basin basketmakers of many tribal backgrounds including many featured here.

In the visual arts, Gilbert Natches was a grandson of Chief Winnemucca and a nephew of Sarah Winnemucca who gained recognition as an editor for Northern Paiute texts as well as for his own landscape paintings.

See below for articles and other materials related to this topic.


Rabbit Boss -- University of Nevada Oral History Program documentary, 1995
Rabbit Boss is a short documentary exploring an important dimension of American Indian life in the Great Basin. Every autumn, in sagebrush valleys east of the Sierra Nevada, Washoe Indians renew a connection with their natural environment. When the time is right, a leader known as the "rabbit boss" assembles a group of hunters to move through the brush, driving jackrabbits before them. As in the past, the rabbits are killed for their meat and pelts. Rabbit Boss follows the leader at the time, Marvin Dressler, on three rabbit drives in the basin-and-range country of the Washoe homeland. On-site footage and historic photos show how the rabbit drive has survived the twentieth century transformation of Washoe life, and excerpts from a decades-old home movie record the making of one of the last of the rabbit skin blankets.

Tah Gum -- University of Nevada Oral History Program documentary, 1999
For thousands of years, tah gum (pine nuts) have been a staple in the winter diet of the Washoe Indians. Eight generations after Euro-Americans moved into their territory, the Washoe still gather in small groups every autumn to harvest pine nuts. Filmed in pinyon-juniper forests east of the Sierra Nevada, Tah Gum accompanies a group of Washoe women as they gather pine nuts, roast them, and talk about the old days. Historic photos and film footage from the 1940s illustrate the evolution of pine-nut gathering and processing in the twentieth century and some of the social atmosphere surrounding the activities. The film ends with a feast of Washoe traditional foods, including pine-nut soup.

Under One Sky -- University of Nevada Oral History Program documentary, Lifeways Gallery, 2006
As told by Northern Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Washoe people, Under One Sky presents "Origin Stories," "Life Ways," and memories of experiences at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City. "Origin Stories" explains the people's presence on the land and their relationship to it, while "Life Ways" illustrates some important changes that have occurred since non-Indian settlers first penetrated traditional Indian territories. These vignettes were filmed on site in spectacular Great Basin locales and on the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. They incorporate historical photographs and footage from vintage home movies. Traditional tribal songs enrich the sound track, and English subtitles are provided for passages that are spoken in native tongues.

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