The forest is a special place, and each plant has it’s own story. Once tall, thick forests covered the land surrounding the Salish Sea, or Puget Sound, region. Since about five-thousand years ago, among these tall conifers, there is a pollen record of the existence of the Western Red Cedar. This slow-growing, water and shade-loving plant, became an essential tree, highly valued by the First Peoples of this region. It provided roots, bark, branches, and wood for creating everything the People needed for survival: clothing, blankets, mats, tools, containers, ceremonial objects, canoes, shelters, and more. In pre-contact times, though the forests were plentiful, thick, and seemingly endless, no part of the cedar tree was taken without respect and apology. Today, the few cedar trees, along with other native plants that remain, hold a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge which is deeply woven into the culture of this place.
It takes a minimum of fifty years for a Western red cedar to grow enough inner bark to be harvested for use in making clothing or basketry. The ideal cedar bark tree has lived a full century, growing tall and straight, yet has a narrow trunk. It is a tree that has grown in the shade of larger trees and is somewhat stunted, with no lower branches interrupting the expanse of trunk for twenty to forty feet, or more. This tree has struggled to get its nourishment, sunlight and water, and it is this type of cedar tree that will yield a thin, strong, high quality inner bark for weaving.
All of the cedar bark I harvest is taken in a respectful manner, with permissions, from trees that are destined to be cut down for other purposes. Through a time honored process, the parts of the tree the are commonly wasted through today’s modern forest practices, can be saved and utilized. In the proper season, the inner bark, roots and branches can be harvested. Once gathered, these pliable, silky materials are organized, dried, and stored. When re-hydrated and woven, they yield light-weight forms of great strength, beauty and function. It is gratifying that these generous trees, and the treasury of cultural knowledge they represent can find a vehicle of life through my work.