A national honor is about to be bestowed on one of Akwesasne’s leading basket makers. On October 15, 2021, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery announced the acquisition of Sheila Kanieson Ransom’s exquisite black ash and sweetgrass basket commemorating the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American recognized as a holy. The basket will also be included in the museum’s upcoming 50th anniversary exhibit.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery are home to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of American art in the world. The Renwick Gallery branch of the museum is dedicated to contemporary craftsmanship, celebrating creators who take both innovative and dedicated approaches to their work. Inclusion in this prestigious collection is one of the highest honors a living artist can achieve.
Sheila Ransom’s beautiful sense of design, artistry and dedication to preserving Akwesasne culture make her a national treasure.
Ransom said: “I often use graph paper to draw my design for a basket, but this time I didn’t.
I knew once I started making this basket it would be special – I had no idea how special it would become. ”
The purple and creamy white basket has the distinctive popcorn weave in an almost herringbone pattern on the lid and along the sides of the basket, with braided sweet grass accenting the center and outer edge of the basket. In the very center of the basket, it features arrow weave and a splint loop making the handle exceptional.
“Every time I work with splints – cut them and split them or weave sweetgrass – it becomes medicine for me. Making baskets is very soothing and calming,” Ransom said.
She went on to explain how “the right baskets are made with the finest splints, woven together as tightly as possible”. As she spoke, it was easy to see how passionate Ransom is about basketry and the baskets themselves. It has an extensive collection of baskets worthy of any museum exhibit. She has a deep regard for her fellow basket makers and artisans who provide her with raw materials.
Lately Akwesasne has lost a manufacturer of splints and forms – Jack Lazore.
Ransom said: “This is such a great loss to all of Akwesasne. He provided the best splints and made the best shapes to make a basket.”
If Ransom’s artistic process of taking an idea and turning it into a real basket is medicine for her, she then diffuses her own ‘good medicine’ to others in the form of beauty, tradition, structure and form – his baskets becoming works of art. .