An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish

Aug 28, 2021 — Feb 26, 2022

Artists Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish both practice and expand the centuries-old Anishinabe tradition of black ash basketry. Church (b. 1967) and Parrish (b. 1989) are members of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band (Gun Lake Tribe). For their Michigan Artist Series exhibition at GRAM, this nationally acclaimed mother and daughter have created more than twenty new works, individually and collaboratively.

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 universal issues and current events. The exhibition will include documentary elements illustrating the strenuous process of harvesting black ash trees and preparing the splints for basketmaking, as well as stories and background information from Church and Parrish about the works on view. For those unable to view the exhibition in person, there will be digital resources on GRAM’s website including installation images, photographs, and texts.

An Interwoven Legacy: The Black Ash Basketry of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish also foregrounds the two artists’ other primary motivations: the importance of maintaining the basketmaking tradition within their culture and their advocacy for the black ash tree’s survival, which is being decimated by an invasive insect. These issues are critically important for people whose cultural survival depends on passing traditions on to the next generations, whether through language, ceremonies, or practices like basketry.

Church, Parrish, and their extended family come from an unbroken line of Black Ash basket makers. The Anishinabe originally made baskets purely for utility, weaving them in various sizes for carrying, collecting, and storing. As broader appreciation for Native baskets developed, the pairs’ ancestors began creating so-called fancy” or decorative baskets as a way to bolster the tribal economy. Church and Parrish draw on these traditions and practices and also create more topical and experimental works. This exhibition powerfully demonstrates both their astonishing artistry and their urgent advocacy on behalf of Native traditions.

Installation Photography

Ancestral Photos

Family and cultural connections are deeply important to Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish. Bill Church, their father and grandfather, respectively, was a writer and historian of Michigan Anishinabe culture, as well as an accomplished basket maker. Kelly Church learned how to weave and to harvest black ash from her father and from her cousin, John Pigeon, an accomplished and nationally recognized basket maker. In turn, she taught her daughter Cherish Parrish and other family members to weave and harvest.

We Anishinabe have been making black ash baskets in Michigan for thousands of years, before this country existed. We have sustained the teachings throughout countless centuries. The photo of my family making black ash baskets is from 1919. With this photo we can document 5 generations of continuous basket makers in our family, and we were basket makers before the 1919 photo. My Grandmother once said, We made baskets before they made cameras.’”

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Thank you to our Sponsors

Support for GRAM’s Michigan Artist Series is generously provided by:

  • Beusse & Porter Family Foundation
  • Barnes & Thornburg LLP
  • The Jury Foundation
  • Progressive AE
  • Janet and Mark Nisbett

Additional exhibition support is provided by:

  • Wege Foundation
  • Michigan Arts and Culture Council
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Ken Betz and Pat Brewer
  • James and Mary Nelson
  • Greg and Meg Willit
  • Janet Gatherer Boyles and John Boyles
  • brightly
  • Robert Daverman, AIA / Grand Rapids Community Foundation
  • Eenhoorn, LLC.
  • Dr. Ronald and Mrs. Dawn Ford / Elite Plastic Surgery
  • Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C.Jeff Gurney and Xuesi Li Gurney
  • Haworth, Inc.
  • Kurt and Madelon Hassberger
  • Dirk and June Hoffius
  • Lizbeth S. O’Shaughnessy and Terry Rathbun
  • Donald and Ann Kelley
  • Susan and Jack Smith
  • Dorothy Williamson
  • Dr. Sandra and Mr. Warren Rempel
  • Frank and Sharon Van Haven
  • Phillip and Julie Croll
  • Stephanie Naito
  • Jane Timmer

Lead Exhibition Society Sponsor