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Shan Goshorn’s Cultural Memory and Her Baskets

Published May 7, 2020

Written by Cassondra Mckenzie


Shan Goshorn, July 3rd, 1957 – December 1st, 2018, was an Eastern Band Cherokee artist. She was raised in North Carolina and lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma towards the latter part of her life. Her basket weaving tells a narrative of human rights for Native Americans and more specifically, women’s rights. I am currently in Dr. Dowell’s Contemporary Native American Art seminar where we discussed Goshorn’s work and its significance.

Goshorn is most known for her intricate baskets and her symbolic weaving patterns. Her designs depict memories that represent a cultural moment in history. Her identity and connection to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation is also a prevalent motif in her work – the relationship between her tribe and history create cultural memory and identity in her works. Hearts of Our Women (2015), Elder Trees (2018), and Resisting the Mission: Filling the Silence (2017) are prime examples of her use of cultural memory to display her own identity as an Eastern Band of Cherokee member. Goshorn depicts historical images onto the utilitarian basket, an item with a traditional connotation. The duality in Goshorn’s baskets exhibits the different functions each can have and how they show the creativity of who makes them. The theme of cultural memory is reinforced through the traditional art of basketry and storytelling.

The cultural memory Goshorn depicts is realistic and often painful. By focusing on the negative impact of colonialism, the message she is sending is monumental and has left an impact on Native American art and art history. Goshorn states in an interview with FireThief that she wants to have these difficult conversations about Native American history and the human rights taken away from them through her baskets. She stated, “But with baskets…it’s familiar to people. It’s because these baskets are interesting to look at, people lean in.” I think that this approach is crucial to help inform people who wouldn’t typically interact with confrontational art like Goshorn’s baskets. Hearts of Our Women (2018) centers on a large basket with the top frayed out to resemble a fire, around it, smaller baskets with the faces of Native American women are arranged. The work incorporates the names of over 700 women into the interior weaving, names that people around the country nominated online. This piece boldly displays the cultural memory of each woman weaved into the baskets, it embraces their memory and honors their lives.

Goshorn utilizes her weaving skills to send this message. She aids people in understanding ideas about Native American culture and art that they might not typically interact with. Her theme of cultural memory and identity showed her own personal style as well as her ancestors before her; she plays an important role in remembering and honoring Native American art.