Mary “Weegie” Claw
Chemehuevi and Kawaiisu basketry
The Chemehuevi of Lake Havasu and the Kawaiisu of Tehachapi are sister tribes. They are similar culturally, linguistically, and socially. Historically, native trails throughout the region brought the tribes into regular contact and several desert encampments were occupied by both Chemehuevi and Kawaiisu peoples. They lived together and made baskets side by side, thus the Chemehuevi and Kawaiisu share similar basketry. Both tribes use willow for baskets’ warp and devil’s claw and juncus tree root for color. The weave of the two tribe’s baskets are identical, except for the basket’s foundation. The practice of Kawaiisu basketry ceased approximately 70 years ago when Sophie Williams, Emma Williams’ daughter, stopped making baskets as her death approached.
Mary “Weegie” Claw is considered one of the few living Chemehuevi master basketweavers. She has been weaving for over 25 years, having learned from her grandmother, Mary Lou Brown. Mary is also the only person who is both technically accomplished enough and tribally endorsed to instruct Kawaiisu basketry.
In 2009, Mary participated in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program with apprentices Janice Williams and Lori de Leon. Their apprenticeship focused on the tribal relationship and similarities between the Kawaiisu and Chemehuevi cultures, Kawaiisu basketry techniques (based on Mary’s own knowledge and study of extant baskets), and the harvesting and preparation of native plants including willow, deer grass, juncus tree root, brakenfern root, red bud, and devil’s claw.