Kelly Church is a black ash basket maker, fiber artist/activist. She uses trees and fibers from the forests of Michigan to create weavings with traditional harvesting and preparation techniques passed on by her elders.
After receiving her B.F.A., Kelly helped care for her grandparents. Each time her grampa received help from others, he would say, “We need to make that person a basket”. She realized that this was his biggest way of saying thank you. She asked her dad to teach her how to get a black ash tree to make baskets, and Kelly’s life as a black ash and fiber artist began that day.
In 2002, researchers at MSU discovered the emerald ash borer (EAB) after thousands of ash trees in South Eastern Michigan died. The USDA predicts the entire ash resource of North America will be lost to EAB. Over the last 15 years, Kelly has taught over 1300 people in 18 different tribes, and at Universities, about black ash basket making traditions and effects of EAB.
Kelly uses the trees and fibers she harvests and processes to turn each material into creations that tell a story in her life in today’s world, just as those before her created baskets that told their stories of their lives as well. It is the teachings that have been sustained and passed on before this country existed that keep this traditional art alive. The weavings tell a story of time, place, and in the future, serve as a record of history.