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Remembering a Visit with Annie Clappis, Basket Weaver

Annie Clappis weaving a swamp-grass basket in 2001. Her pattern board is visible in the background. Photo by Karen Duffek.

Back in 2001, I had an extraordinary chance to go on a research road trip to visit and interview a number of Nuu-chah-nulth basket makers in Port Alberni and on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I set off on a few days’ adventure with Trish Collison, a Haida cultural worker who was doing a year-long internship at MOA.

Taking our rental car on some muddy, almost-off-road terrain (oops, sorry, Budget!) to get to the far west coast, we eventually knocked on the door of Huu-ay-aht elder Mrs. Annie Clappis, who lived at Anacla, near Bamfield. Dressed in a Banff souvenir t-shirt, she welcomed us into her home, where she was working on a tiny basket made of finely trimmed swamp grass, dyed bright red. “You got to have patience to weave,” she explained, “to sit there all day long and just go a little ways.” She showed us how she would split the grass, using a pin. “My mother used to use a splitter with razor blades,” she recalled; “Remember those blue blades, really thin? I couldn’t find it anywhere. I wished I had it.”

Pattern basket, 1990. Annie Clappis, Nuu-chah-nulth (Huu-ay-aht). Swamp grass, three-corner grass, aniline dyes. MOA Collection 1422/1. Photo by Derek Tan.

Now, when I look at the beautiful ‘pattern basket’ that MOA commissioned from Annie Clappis in 1990, I remember this skilled and culturally committed woman who was so proud of the fine work she did. “My mother was always weaving,” she told us; “She didn’t have the time to teach me but I watched. I learned from watching when I was eight or nine. It’s how my daughter learned, too.” Displayed in MOA’s Multiversity Galleries, her basket is the same type that originally would have been used to record a weaver’s repertoire of basketry designs, often including motifs passed down from mother to daughter, auntie to niece. Born in 1922, Mrs. Clappis passed away in 2006.