Nettie Kuneki Jackson, a member of the Klickitat band of the Yakima Nation, came from a long line of basketmakers. Her specialty was weaving coiled baskets using split roots from Western Red Cedar bark, with intricate decorations of natural and dyed beargrass and cedar root skin. She learned basketry from observing her grandmother, Mattie Spencer Slockish, who was also a well-recognized Klickitat basketmaker. She also studied with her mother-in-law, Elise Thomas, making baskets that they took to the mountains to gather materials.
It took Jackson seven years to learn to weave baskets in the ways her family had. She devoted her life to mastering these ancient skills and to passing them on to future basketweavers, both as works of beauty and as an essential part of her living with and helping to revive native cultures and practices. Jackson and her daughter, Sharon Kuneki, are among only a few Klickitat basketmakers to use traditional methods and materials. The traditional designs of Klickitat baskets are visual symbols that carry meaning and are used to tell stories. Surprised that so few in her community knew the significance of the designs, Jackson taught others about their importance, including a focus on dyeing and the use of a variety of plant materials used for making Klickitat baskets.
Klickitat basketry has been kept alive principally through Jackson’s efforts. The book she co-authored, The Heritage of Klickitat Basketry: A History and Art Preserved, helped to bring increased recognition and appreciation for Klickitat basketry. Her work has been widely exhibited throughout Washington and Oregon, and in 1989, she was featured in a documentary film And Woman Wove It In A Basket. Jackson’s efforts have been widely recognized including by the Washington State Arts Commission, where ArtsWa brought her exceptional work to our attention.