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November 9, 2004

Crafting Native Americanness (Literally!)

Last summer the National Museum of the American Indian here in NYC offered a craft workshop in which one could learn how to weave Native American baskets. I went almost solely because the whole enterprise of learning indigenous crafts leaves a sour taste in my mouth. After years of school field trips to the Museum of the Great Plains (located in my hometown) in which we would invariably be taught something about the Indian culture that was here before us (of course, none of us were supposed to actually be Indian and even if there were the Indian life that was to be taught was lodged firmly within a static past so that we could learn it along with the rest of the group), I am a bit pensive about the educational profit of such events.

Nevertheless, I went to the NMAI basket weaving lesson. That Saturday afternoon I learned two weaving techniques, that I am a lot more Martha than I let on to and I met a strangely fantastic group of women who are self ascribed craft workshop junkies. Susan, Marjorie, Evelyn and Amy (the craft workshop junkies) attend all of the Native American craft workshops offered at the NMAI, among others, and meet twice monthly to practice and show off their latest creations. Sure, I sound fairly calm now but on that Saturday morning I was quite spooked by these women. Extreme craftiness makes me uncomfortable (scrap-booking practically frightens me to the core!). Seriously though, I had to wonder why these four youngish women were so bonkers for baskets and beading. But let me backtrack to how I really met them. I was positioned next to Amy during the workshop. By midway through the class I was starting to unravel and as for my basket�well, it was in a sad state. Amy kindly asked if I needed help and conversation ensued. (For those interested the basket was a success).

For my participation-observation exercise, I have chosen Susan, Marjorie, Evelyn and Amy�s bi-monthly craft meeting as my setting/event. We will meet this upcoming Thursday (11/11/04) at Evelyn�s home in Lawrenceville, NJ. At this particular meeting the ladies will be working on their beadwork. As a novice, I will be attempting a small beaded blanket strip. My approach to this project is to both participate in the beading activities but also to take moments to �step back� and focus on taking down fieldnotes. While the authors of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes caution that obvious and observable note taking might distance the researcher from the other participants, I think in this situation note taking (within reason) will not be detrimental. I anticipate this primarily on the fact that the group already knows my research aims from talking with them during the basket weaving class and from our communications since then. What I would like to pay attention to is how the act of beadwork interacts with the narratives offered by the participants. Returning to Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs� article �Narrating the Self,� I am interested in how (if?) the beading assists in their particular narration.

1.) The patterns made in language and any connections to the beading.

2.) How the act of beading threads the conversation from one topic to another.

3.) Moments of disjuncture or agreement between physical movement and linguistic acts.

4.) How the beading bolsters (if at all) speech acts.

5.) Spatial organization and how narratives flow (are choreographed) within the space.

As perhaps evinced by my checklist, attention will be paid not only to the spoken text of the participants but also how they are embodied. I understand this urge as a showing rather than telling as well as an attention to bodily enactments. In Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes this strategy is highlighted in their discussion of the fieldnotes taken by a researcher working in a HUD office. In these fieldnotes, the researcher observes and notes not only a HUD workers exact quotation but also, �vivid details of her body posture and [�] her accenting eye movements� (32). The jotting in this instance is focused not on conjectured internal states or psychological motivations but, rather, on the contact and relations between the bodily technique of beading and the participant�s narratives. I expect this exercise will be somewhat different than the interview in which the interviewee (or at least mine) � offered his motivations and experienced feelings quite often. During participation/observation I can not observe how race/ethnicity is felt or experienced, nevertheless, what I can observe is how the act of beading might connect with narrative in a meaningful way. Of course, these jottings will be compiled, expanded upon and somewhat revised in the process of translating them into fieldnotes (which I will do immediately after on the train ride home). It is my expectation that in organizing my fieldnotes, I will begin to organize not only patterns and code themes but also the transitions that occur in to conversation i.e. how a narrative is transformed/blended into the next.

P.S. There seemed to be some crafty desires circulating in class today. If anyone is interested the next NMAI craft workshop in which beading will be taught will be in January 2005.

Posted by at November 9, 2004 1:35 AM