Cherokee Traditions: From the Hands of our Elders
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People: Julia Taylor

Julia Ann Ned Taylor (1902-1991), a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, was known for making ribbed white oak baskets.  Born in 1902, she learned to make baskets in 1914 when she was 12 years old.  Like many traditional Cherokee basket weavers, she learned the craft from her mother.  Throughout her life, Taylor made white oak baskets, a craft common in the Appalachian mountains among Cherokee and whites alike.  A hard wood, white oak was abundant in the region and baskets made from it were strong.  For many years Julia Taylor and two of her daughters, Rachel and Dolly, made baskets as a team.  Her other two daughters, Pauline and Sally, made baskets as well.  In 1970 the Indian Arts and Crafts Board organized a solo show of Julia Taylor’s work at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual artisan cooperative.  A 1978 exhibit featured baskets made by the entire Taylor family.

Born September 7, 1902, Julia Ned lived in the Birdtown community of the Qualla Boundary, lands owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  She grew up speaking Cherokee and learned the traditional ways of the Cherokee people. Her mother, Susan Wahnedah (1863-1938), was a basket weaver as was her grandmother.  In 1914, 12-year-old Julia Ned learned to make white oak baskets.  Basket weaving was a family tradition, something done to put food on the table.

“Mother taught me to make the little shopping baskets with handles that I could sell for ten cents to our white neighbors around the Cherokee Reservation.  She and Dad would visit them in the fall of the year to trade the larger baskets that Mother had made for potatoes, canned stuff, dried beans, apples, molasses and, once in a while, meat.”. 1  

Married to Julius Taylor, the couple raised five children.  All of them tried their hand at basket weaving at one time or another. 

“After I got married and had several small children to care for, there was not much time for basketmaking.  When the girls of the family were big enough to learn, I taught them to make baskets which were sold to help with our living expenses.” 2

Julia Taylor’s two married daughters, Pauline Taylor Junaluska (b. 1928) and Sally Taylor Wade (1924-1988), became accomplished basket weavers.  Her oldest and youngest daughters, Rachel (b. 1921) and Dolly (b. 1938), lived with their mother and made baskets as a team.  The three Taylor women gathered raw materials, prepared them, and dyed the white oak.  All of these steps had to be finished before they could begin to weave.  Before the advent of craft sales shops, customers came directly to their Birdtown home to purchase baskets.  “Just about every week,” Julia Taylor remembered, “they came here to get them.”  She described their work together simply as “There are three of us.  It is a factory.” 3  

Sally Ann Taylor Wade (1924-1988), Julia Taylor’s second daughter, was known to create basket patterns in the midst of constructing a basket.  She became an accomplished weaver of white oak baskets and a member of the Qualla Arts and Crafts cooperative.  The Taylor family’s approach to basket weaving was pragmatic; Sally Wade remarked, “It is a way we make a living.”  Still, Wade was motivated by tradition as well.  “My mother’s mother was a basket maker and I wanted to make baskets like my mama did.” 4

In 1970, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, in cooperation with Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, organized a one-person show of Julia Taylor’s baskets.  In 1978, a second exhibit at the Qualla Arts and Crafts cooperative focused on baskets made by the entire Taylor family, mother Julia with her four daughters, Rachel, Sally, Pauline, and Dolly.  Their work included traditional forms—like market and egg baskets—as well as newer adaptations of older forms—like knitting baskets—that resemble a traditional Appalachian “hen” basket.  Julia Taylor remarked that she was able to purchase her own home with the money she made selling baskets. 5

An article in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper celebrated the basketry skills of Julia Taylor. 

Through her creative accomplishments, considerable aesthetic and technical advancement in contemporary basketry has been achieved for craftsmen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, long recognized for their outstanding basketmaking skills.” 6

Julia Taylor and Lottie Stamper were two Cherokee basket weavers featured in Artisans of the Appalachians, a book by Edward L. Dupuyand Emma Weaver.  DuPuy photographed Taylor making a white oak melon basket, a form she often produced.  In an interview made in preparation for the book, Taylor emphasized how tradition—and with it the skill it took to make a basket—were passed from one generation to the next.  “My mother made them, and her mother made them,” she said, “I am the fourth generation.” 7   Among the Cherokee, women were the keepers of a family’s basket weaving skills.

Anna Fariello
Excerpted from Cherokee Basketry: From the Hands of our Elders,
Published by The History Press, 2009

See More by Julia Taylor

1. Mollie Blankenship and Stephen Richmond.  Contemporary Artists and Craftsmen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Promotional Exhibits, 1969-1985 (Cherokee, NC: Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc, 1987) 14.
2. Blankenship and Richmond, 14.
3. Edward L. Dupuy, “Interview with Julia Taylor,” Jan. 14, 1965 in the collection of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
4. Juanita Hughes, Wind Spirit: An Exhibition of Cherokee Arts and Crafts (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., n.d.) 33.
5. Blankenship and Richmond, 84-86, 14.
6. “Basketry by Julia Taylor to be shown during December,” The Cherokee One Feather, Nov. 25, 1970.
7. Edward L. Dupuy and Emma Weaver, Artisans of the Appalachians (Asheville, NC: The Miller Printing Company, 1967) 6-7; Dupuy, “Interview.”

Cherokee Traditions:
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Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Museum of the Cherokee Indian

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