Linda Aguilar’s Horsehair Baskets

“I suppose it is the sheer beauty of the horse that makes a cowboy love them so darn much.

A horse’s smooth powerful muscled body with their flowing manes and tails giving them that strong noble appearance that a cowboy loves to be connected to. A relationship develops between any human and animal that work so doggone close together. I reckon I can remember every horse I ever sat upon. Some horses I recall more fondly than others. Remembering a young green filly Palomino named Sandy still makes me ache all over. Others like old Skitter, Grey or Dollar make me smile all over. I can see why a person might want to hang on to a piece of them after they get called up to horsy heaven. Anyway that was how I came to know Linda Aguilar. I’ve collected Indian beadwork most of my adult life. I have always loved Indian art. Never thought much about Indian baskets until I got to know Linda. I rather liked the idea of making a beautiful horse hair basket to remember a dear old Appaloosa I had grown real fond of.”

That is what I said when a gallery owner asked me what made Linda Aguilar’s horsehair baskets so special.

As for Linda, she is a quiet and unassuming master basket weaver proud to belong to the Chumash tribe of Southern California. Linda is a 1978 graduate of the University of California in Santa Barbara. She makes some of the prettiest and tiniest baskets I’ve ever seen. They are a collector’s dream.

Her baskets have been shown at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. The Stagecoach Museum at Newbury Park, Calif., has over 100 of Linda’s miniature baskets on permanent display. One of her finest works, a larger coiled horsehair basket with more traditional Chumash abalone shell ornamentation, was added to the permanent collection of outstanding examples of contemporary Native American art in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It is no surprise she has won way over 50 “first place” and “best of show” ribbons.

At this writing she has made and sold almost 6,000 baskets. When South Africa’s Nelson Mandela visited Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley presented him with an Aguilar basket. The Dalai Lama of Tibet also received one of Linda’s lovely coiled horsehair baskets. So collectors the world over are in good company.

It should be noted that the Chumash people did not traditionally make horsehair baskets. Traditional Chumash baskets were made from deer grass and closed stitched with fibrous strands of reed-like grass called juncas. The making of horsehair baskets has evolved only during the last two centuries. Linda is very much an expert in the more traditional baskets as well. She was a featured artist in the video A Treasury of California Baskets by Gregory Schaaf, Ph.D., a well-respected expert in Native American basketry.

In addition to being a master basket-maker, Linda is a clown, or as others know them, “a contrary.” This has an interesting impact on Linda’s art form.

“When people tell me to do something one way, or expect me to do something one way, I often do it another,” Linda says. “I love to let the clown’s sense of humor impact the basket. I never weave when I am sad or upset, or even watching something bad on TV, because I don’t want to weave the ‘bad’ into the basket.

“My weaving is a meditation for life. It helps me see and understand how everything is connected to each other. When I collect my materials to make a basket, I notice how pollution and the weather, the moisture and the wind affect my materials.

“These are the fine things, the important things, most people are just too busy to see or bother with” she sighed. “It is really all connected, somehow. The art is connected to the material and my physical being ? the faster I try to go, the longer it seems to take me. I simply have to be in a peaceful state of mind and let the spirits and the art take over.”

Whatever it is that she does, the end products are these marvelous baskets. They reinvent the horse’s hair into a new and beautiful and meaningful piece of exceptionally beautiful art, which any self-respecting cowboy would love to have on his mantle. I own a dozen of the miniature Aguilar baskets that I display with miniature Kachina dolls. For me it is like having a whole herd of wild mustangs running across the top of the fireplace. I believe, like Linda, that somehow the essence of the spirit of the horse is captured in these tiny treasures.

Richard A. Payne, M.A. Ed., Cherokee/Wyandot/Blackfoot/Welsh, is a free-lance writer, political activist and art collector who lives on the Cache LaPoudre River in Colorado.

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