Heiltsuk / Toquaht weaver Charlotte Carpenter was born in Bella Bella, BC. She relocated to Port Alberni when she married into Toquaht Nation, and it was at this time that she became intrigued with the baskets that Emma and Mary McKay would weave. She was soon learning how to harvest bear and sedge grass, which is a lengthy process that involves cutting, bleaching it in the sun, before dying, storing – and finally weaving.
After 40 years of experimenting with grasses and learning designs that she inherited from her teachers and family members, Carpenter is now a master weaver and teacher of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth weaving. Her teachers include Emma and Mary McKay of Toquaht, Mable Taylor of Tsheshaht, and Jenny Cootes and Amelia David of
Basket collectors marvel at Carpenters brilliant designs, vibrant colors, and her ability to weave very fine stitches, on baskets that are started with only 8 pieces of bear grass, as opposed to the thick mats that are often seen today. As it is more time consuming to start a basket with a spiral base, these special and rare baskets fetch a much higher price.
Carpenter has used traditional red cedar molds, passed down to her by family members, but also weaves on bottles, shells and Japanese Floats. She is also a master cedar weaver, another textile that is utilized widely, up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast.
We have several pieces by Charlotte Carpenter in our collection, and are always happy to custom order pieces if you are seeking something specific.
Miniature Cosmetic Basket by Charlotte Carpenter
Nuu-chah-nulth weaver Witchita Paul once showed me a basket that was filled with a beautiful white skin cream - it was refined bear fat! Clean to smell and touch - bear fat was used to protect the hair and skin of whale-hunters on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, which is known for strong winds. According to Nancy Turner's "Plant Technology," which is an account of indigenous knowledge on plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Cedar and Hemlock were both utilized with animal fat for sunblock. Cedar offers a red hue, while Hemlock was used for deriving brown and yellow pigments.