Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community artist Jeffrey Fulwilder has left his mark on many of the Community’s enterprises, including a shopping center, business centers and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, with his contemporary sculptures reflecting O’odham culture. He is starting off 2012 with the completion of four steel O’odham basket sculptures for the lobby at Two Waters Building A.
Each basket is made from 400 feet of rebar steel and weighs 194 pounds, and is designed and painted to resemble a traditional O’odham basket.
The baskets idea was a design that Fulwilder originally wanted to do for the Memorial Hall, but the building’s walls were not strong enough to support the weight of the baskets. When the Two Waters Art Committee asked for some of his artwork to be displayed in the Two Waters buildings, Fulwilder pitched them this idea.
Finding Design Inspiration
“After the job was confirmed, I took my ideas to the O’odham Piipaash Language Program,” said Fulwilder. “I talked to the ladies there who do baskets and told them my ideas. I explained to them that I wanted to do four baskets. I asked the OPLP staff what the important elements of the O’odham people were. We came up with water, wisdom, family, and the Earth.”
Fulwilder and the OPLP staff continued their research to see which basket designs were already out there and decided on the turtle back, the four directions, water and the squash blossom to serve as the design inspirations for the iron baskets.
“After I started painting the designs on the baskets, things would go through my mind…. I thought about the creation story and how it all tied together,” Fulwilder explained. “The Creator decided to make the Earth and wanted the people to live there. He reached into the water and made this ball, and he wondered where he was going to put this ball (the Earth) for the people to live on. He threw it to the east and it came back; he threw it to the west and it came back; he threw it to the north and it came back; and he threw it to the south and it came back. He said, ‘Well, this is where I’m going to put it, right here in the center, because this is where it keeps coming back to.’ That is how the Earth was made for the people to live on.
“After thinking about that story and the basket designs that I was drawing, I realized it all tied together,” Fulwilder continued. “There is a water design that represents the water that the Creator reached his hand into to get mud to create the Earth. The turtle design represents the Earth, the four-direction design represents each way the Creator tried to place the Earth, and the squash blossom turned out to mean the family tree to the O’odham people, so it represents the people. It’s kind of neat because the ladies didn’t even think about that when they were helping pick designs; I thought about it when I was working on them for the last year.”
Honoring the Basket-Making Tradition
Fulwilder offered Community basket-makers the chance to preview the finished basket sculptures before they were installed at the Two Waters Building. Basket-makers Alice Manuel, Audrey Santo, Raeann Brown and Sue Owens posed for a photograph with the iron baskets.
Manuel has been making baskets since 1983, when she and her mother, Audrey Santo, attended a class taught by the late Hilda Manuel. The two went on to teach basket-making classes until three years ago.
Brown, the daughter of Alice Manuel, started basket-weaving when she was 11 years old, and Owens started weaving in 1995.
“There are others who have completed more than one basket: Mary Andrews, Vanessa Manuel, Debbie Sampson, and Berdina Burke” said Alice Manuel as she remembered other ladies who had completed baskets in the classes she taught. “We have taught over 30 women who are at various stages [in their basket-making skills]. There are a lot of ladies in the Community who know how to weave, but because of time, work and family obligations, they don’t do it as much as they probably would like to. We hope these baskets inspire them; it inspires me. It makes me want to weave, and they are really beautiful.”
Fulwilder hopes people will be glad to see these basket sculptures displayed for the Community and visitors.