Kelly Church, who is an Ottawa/Pottawatomi black ash basket maker, fiber artist, educator, activist and culture keeper, will present the address “Weaving Our Stories: Black Ash Basketry, Ecology and the Anishinaabe People of Michigan” at Hope College on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m. in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall.
The public is invited. Admission is free.
A member of the Gun Lake Band in Michigan and a Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Ojibwe descendent, Church comes from an unbroken line of black ash basket makers and from the largest black ash weaving family in the Great Lakes region. She spent her childhood in southwestern Michigan studying the Odawa language from her paternal grandmother and learning black ash basketry from her father, Bill Church, and cousin, John Pigeon. After high school, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and received an associate of fine arts degree before returning to Michigan to earn a BFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
She has learned firsthand how the process of weaving a black ash basket is not only about weaving. It is also about biochemistry, forest management, pest control, Indigenous language, family history, and deep, ancient connections to the landscape from which her people originate.
In 2002, Church learned about the emerald ash borer (EAB). Researchers at Michigan State University discovered it was causing thousands of ash trees in South Eastern Michigan to die. This invasive and voracious black ash tree bug from Asia has no known predators and the USDA has predicted the entire ash resource of North America will be lost to it. Without black ash trees available to harvest, generations of knowledge, experience and traditional expressions could be lost.
She was galvanized to do something about it and began researching, documenting, collecting seeds, and collaborating with national and international agencies in getting the word out about this environmental and cultural disaster. To date she has taught more than 1,300 people from 18 different tribes, and in universities across the country — including as a guest presenter in the ethnobotany class at Hope in February. She has also passed her knowledge on to her daughter, Cherish Parrish, who is now a renowned weaver and artist in her own right.
Church’s journey as an advocate for the survival of Native traditions and the black ash tree has involved many national and international art programs, exhibitions, and partnerships with government agencies such as tribal offices and the US Forest Service. She has received multiple honors and awards, including being named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, earning a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation’s National Artist Fellowship, and has been a four-time Artist Leadership Program participant of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Her artwork has been exhibited and purchased by both public and private collectors around the world.
The talk is co-sponsored by the college’s Department of Biology; American and Ethnic Studies program; Department of Art and Art History; Center for Diversity and Inclusion; Department of History; Kruizenga Art Museum; and Women’s and Gender Studies program.
Audience members who need assistance to enjoy any event at Hope fully are encouraged to contact the college’s Events and Conferences Office by emailing email@example.com or calling 616-395-7222 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Updates related to events are posted when available in the individual listings at hope.edu/calendar.
Graves Hall is located at 263 College Ave., between 10th and 12th streets.