Scrape the Willow until It Sings: The Words and Work of Basket Maker Julia Parker

Winner of the 2013 California Book Award, Gold Medal for Contribution to Publishing

Julia Parker, Coast Miwok-Kashaya Pomo basket maker, carries the stories of baskets in her hands. A prolific artist, teacher, and storyteller, she makes baskets that carry the stories of an older California, of bracken fern patch and sedge bed, of all the Native women through the generations who gathered willow together.

But this book isn’t just a book about baskets; this collection of Parker’s flowing reminiscences falls somewhere between a spoken memoir that twists and winds with the beauty of coiled root, and a poetic tribute to the living traditions of California Indian women over the last two hundred years. Julia Parker stands a the heart of these strands, a woman who has reached up and down the state with her strong hands, learning and sharing traditional knowledge of basketry with Paiute, Kashaya Pomo, Yosemite Miwok/Paiute, and non-Indian alike. From delicate Easter baskets to cooking vessels for heating acorn flour, from accounts of boarding school to the proper ways to gather sedge root, this wise, wry, and deeply moving book will take you right into the heart of California.

Alongside Parker’s sensitively photographed work, her words are stitched throughout with textile artist and scholar Deborah Valoma’s essays on the historical and philosophical implications of basketry from a non-Native perspective. Basing her work on rigorous scholarship and a long-term personal relationship between author and artist, Valoma peels back cultural assumptions about Native America basketry to reveal the relevance of Parker’s embodied philosophies of thinking and making in the twenty-first century.

Advance Praise

“There are not many books that can change the way you see the world, but this is one of them. To understand basket making, as this book invites us to do, is to transform one’s concepts of art and craft, indeed of culture itself. It is an eye-opening, mind-expanding, and heart-touching book.”

—Lawrence Rinder, Director, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive


“Deborah Valoma infuses her prose with a vivid subjective voice all too often absent in mainstream art history. The book is a passionate, as well as a rigorous, contribution to the literature on craft and creativity.”

—Glenn Adamson, Deputy Head of Research and Head of Graduate Studies, Victoria and Albert Museum


“This poetic publication tantalizes our tactile sensibilities, draws ancient haptic knowledge from its reader, and excites the listener with the sound of the singing willow.”

—Catherine Harper, Dean of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth


“Julia Parker is one of those remarkable and admirable individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to preserving and maintaining our culture, and what beautiful and lovely work it is. Listen to her, watch her, read what she has to say.”

—Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria


“It is not often that we are invited to partake in such a thoughtful reflection on the concepts embodied in the rich art form of basketry. Deborah Valoma's sensitive homage to Julia Parker effectively captures how the basket maker's wisdom resonates through her words and works—a profound resonance that we can only hope will to continue to inspire generations to come.”

—Sonya Clark, Chair, Department of Craft/Material Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University


“An invaluable resource for artists, craftspeople, cultural historians, visual studies scholars, and museum professionals, Valoma’s writing is as precise, poetic and mesmerizing to read as it must be to watch Julia Parker weave her exquisite baskets in Yosemite Valley. Crafted as an ongoing, intimate exchange between two working artists, it offers rare insights into the dynamic relationship of one’s creative practice to inherited cultural legacies. The author’s astounding multidisciplinary scholarly research convincingly reveals how Parker’s materials, working methods, and forms link to local ecological systems, kinship structures, and evolving technologies, as well as historical and contemporary indigenous political struggles. Valoma’s and Parker’s voices complement one another, debunking dangerous assumptions that still linger in our collective imaginations: e.g., false schisms between mind/body, art/artifact, fine art/craft, aesthetics/utility and what constitutes the ‘traditional’ vs. the ‘contemporary.’ This imaginative book makes a timely contribution to current cultural debates within art as well as sustainability studies, and will likely become required reading for students in multiple fields of practice.”

—Lydia Matthews, Professor of Visual Culture and Director, Curatorial Design Research Lab, Parsons, The New School of Design

About the Author

Deborah ValomaDeborah Valoma is an artist, professor, and chair of the Textiles Program at California College of the Arts in Oakland and San Francisco, where her specialized field of research and teaching is textile history and theory. She earned a B.A. from UC Berkeley in anthropology and an M.F.A. in textiles from the California College of Arts and Crafts. She has written several articles on the culture of textiles as a global aesthetic practice and edited a special issue of Textiles: Journal of Cloth and Culture on the topic of dust. Formerly the Director of Fine Arts at CCA, Valoma organized the international symposium Craft Forward, in which theorists and practitioners debated future trajectories of the field. She has served on the board of directors of several community-based organizations dedicated to the preservation of traditional arts, maintains a weaving practice, and engages in ongoing collaborations with artists and choreographers.