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Kelly Church, a fifth-generation basket maker, was born in 1967. She grew up in southwestern Michigan. Her mother is English and Irish, and her father is Odawa and Ojibwe. Church studied the Odawa language from her paternal grandmother and learned black ash basketry from her father, Bill Church, and cousin, John Pigeon. She in turn has taught her daughter, Cherish Parrish (Gun Lake Band Potawatomi).[1]

Church earned an Associate of Fine Arts degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2006 and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 2008.[2]



Church harvests her own trees with her family in swampy areas of rural Michigan. Preparing the materials takes far longer than the weaving. She removes the bark from the felled log, and then splits apart the growth rings into finer and finer splints for basketry. The splints are dyed and soaked before weaving.[3]

Her baskets range from the utilitarian fishing creels, market baskets, and bark baskets to traditional, rectangular wedding baskets and whimsical strawberry baskets.[4] She also creates experimental baskets, with materials such as copper, photographs, and plastic window blinds – the latter a warning of what the future might look like without black ash trees.

Birchbark bitingEdit

Church is one of the few birchbark biters active today. This precontact Great Lakes art form involves biting designs with one's eyeteeth into folded sheet of young paper birch bark. The bit areas turn a dark brown that contrasts with the pale surface of the bark. Her designs are both abstract and representational, featuring turtles, dragonflies, and other subjects.[4]


Inspired by the Woodlands style of painting created by Norval Morrisseau, Church paints characters from her tribes' oral histories, such as Nanabozho, or the wildlife native to Michigan, such as sandhill cranes. She typically works in acrylic on canvas and uses contrasting colors for maximum optical brilliance.

Honors and projectsEdit

Kelly Church has won many awards for her basketry, including the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Award[1] and the 2008 Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Fellowship. In 2006 and 2008, she organized a symposium about tactics to save the black ash tree from the emerald ash borer,[1] with funding and support from the National Museum of the American Indian. More recently, Church also received the National Museum of the American Indian Artist Leadership Program Award (2010), as well as the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Award (2011).

Church was awarded best of basketry classification by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2016. The Smithsonian Institution awarded her a Native Scholars Fellowship in 2016.

The National Endowment for the Arts named Church as one of its 2018 National Heritage Fellows.[5]



McFadden, David R, and Ellen N. Taubman. Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation. London: Merrell, 2002.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Ottawa), Hopkins, Michigan. Carriers of Culture: Living Native Basket Traditions. 31 Dec 2006 (retrieved 17 March 2009)
  2. ^ Resume, The Art of Kelly Church and Cherish Parrish. 2009 (retrieved 16 December 2012)
  3. ^ "Art Market at National Museum of the American Indian". Smithsonian Magazine. 5 Dec 2008 (retrieved 17 March 2009)
  4. ^ a b Programs and Activities: Kelly Church. Great Lakes Folk Festival. 2008 (retrieved 17 March 2009)
  5. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2018 National Heritage Fellows". National Endowment for the Arts. 20 June 2018.
  6. ^ Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. Seattle : University of Washington Press. 2019.
  7. ^ McFadden, David Revere; Taubman, Ellen Napiura; American Craft Museum (New York, N.Y.) (2002). Changing hands: art without reservation. London; New York, N.Y.: Merrell ; American Craft Museum. ISBN 9781858941882. OCLC 231881941.

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