Grand Rapids Art Museum features “An Interwoven Legacy”


Courtesy / GRAM Communications, Church Parrish

Mary Dupuis, A&E Editor

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) recently debuted the next installment of their Michigan Artist Series, titled, “An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish.”

The exhibition will be on view at GRAM through Feb. 26, 2022 and features work made by mother and daughter basket makers Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band (Gun Lake Tribe). Both artists are nationally recognized for their crafts. 

Together, they have debuted more than 20 new works centered around the tradition of creating black ash basketry specifically for the exhibition. 

GRAM Communications Manager, Elizabeth Payne, said the artists draw from many different aspects of life for inspiration for their baskets. 

“Some of these are traditional baskets, while others are woven works of art that draw on Native history and storytelling to make striking parallels to current events,” Payne said. 

In a press release GRAM Chief Curator, Ron Platt, said that in Church and Parrish’s family basket weaving has been handed down from one generation to the next for centuries.

“Cherish and I take our old traditional teachings and we combine it with the contemporary stories of who we are as Natives in 2021,” Church said in a press release. “We are the largest basket weaving family in Michigan, and the fact that we can carry it on this long, to me shows strength and resilience of who we are.” 

Courtesy / GRAM Communications, Church Parrish

Payne said the exhibition is meant to emphasize two of the artists’ primary motivations: the importance of maintaining the basketmaking tradition and their advocacy for the black ash tree’s survival. 

Originally, the Anishinabe made baskets for utility purposes, weaving them in different sizes for carrying or storing things. As a broader appreciation for Native baskets developed, they began creating decorative baskets to sell. 

Today, the black ash trees are being decimated by an invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. The survival of these trees is essential to keeping the basketmaking aspect of Church and Parrish’s culture alive.

According to a press release Church said the trees are a key part of their culture, and the story of their people. 

“The black ash tree is an integral part of who we are, from creation stories to blood memories, to the baskets that we make today,” Church said. ​“We start with the black ash tree, and we do all of the processing — we harvest it, we process it, we cut it, and then we make a basket that tells a story of our life today. We’re combining the traditions of our past that have been carried on for thousands of years.”

In addition to the exhibition itself, there will be documentary elements showcasing the way that the black ash trees are harvested and the splints are prepared for basketmaking. Church and Parrish will also be featured, telling stories and background information about the works on display. 

GRAM Members and the public are welcome to participate in drop-in tours, and virtual basketmaking workshops led by Church and the Drop-In Studio. 

For those unable to make it in person, installation images, a video interview with the artists, and photos and texts can be found on GRAM’s website.