Anthropology Curatorial Postcard 03-10-21

She sits upright in a Carson City photographer’s studio surrounded by her earliest coiled, willow baskets. Her right-hand grips a formidable shillelagh used as her walking stick; her left hand holds a Washoe mush stirring stick (Ba∙Ɂleyu). Although her clothing does not reflect a person of status, her poise, posture, and facial expression is that of royalty. It is no wonder this promotional picture, commissioned by Amy Cohn, is titled Queen of the Basketmakers.

In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the Nevada State Museum highlights the life and work of Louisa Kaiser, also known as Datsolalee, the famous Washoe basket weaver. While many know of Louisa’s exquisitely made three-rod coiled basketry, historic information describing who she was is sparse. Many stories in the historic record support the myth of Datsolalee, which was carefully constructed by the Cohns, owners of Carson City’s Emporium where she wove made-for-sale baskets, some priced in the thousands of dollars. The myth of Datsolalee, was part of the Cohn’s promotional agenda, and likely did not represent who she was. What we do know is that Louisa Kaiser’s unparalleled talent made her a leader among a handful of internationally known Native American/American Indian weavers. She was at the forefront in transforming traditional utilitarian Washoe basketry into works of art through innovation in form plus decorative motifs and designs.