Rose and Francis Cree were highly respected Ojibwe elders in Dunseith, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, where both were born. Both were storytellers. Francis were a spiritual leader, pipe carver and keeper of the ceremonial drum for their community. He also worked with his wife making baskets.
Francis made the frames from ash cut in nearby woods. He joined the ash ribs — always an odd number — with string or wire and let the frame dry overnight, then tightened it again. Rose wove the basket from willows that she kept in the freezer so they would stay moist.
“We use brown, red and white in our designs,” Rose told NEA interviewer Mary K. Lee. “The brown willow comes in three colors. Some are buckskin color; some are darker brown. I think they just go according to the weather. In the spring, they're a little lighter, then later on they turn a little brown. You get three colors out of them. Then we get the natural red willow; that's all the same color all the time. We use two kinds of willow, the red willow and the brown willow. To make the white design, we scrape the bark off of the willow. … I learned it all from my mother, the designs and all that. There’s only one design that I make, a diamond design. My grandkids are learning that design, too. They put their design out like mine.”
Rose created a variety of shapes, though she made a disproportionate number of smaller baskets, because they were so popular. She called these the hardest to make, because the ribs are close together.
“We made the clothes baskets and cradle baskets — a basket with a hood — wall baskets, round baskets, oval baskets, duck baskets and turtle baskets,” she told Lee. “Rabbit baskets. We came up with a lot of different designs. We kind of created these, the duck, the rabbit and the turtle baskets. The turtle baskets were always the leading thing in our tribe. It’s spiritual. For the Indian people, that's a great spiritual thing.”
Rose passed her art along to her children and grandchildren and to others as well. “I teach in schools and colleges and other places,” she said. “I go different places to teach, but they say it’s too hard for them to do. They don’t have a strong enough interest to keep at it. It’s boring, they say. There’s only a few that are really interested in learning. Others say it’s too hard. But it isn’t, you know, once you catch on. It’s just like when you're weaving potholders and stuff; it’s just the same as that. You go in and out, in and out; you’re weaving. It's not really hard after you catch on.”
Yellow Bird, Dorreen. “Remembering a Life: Leaving her Cultural Legacy; Nationally Known Basket Maker Rose Cree Dies.” Grand Forks Herald (January 2004).
“North Dakota Artists Receive National Heritage Fellowship.” North Dakota Council on the Arts (September 2002).
Martin, Christopher. Prairie Patterns: Folk Art in North Dakota. North Dakota: Richtman’s Printing (1
Rose and Francis Cree interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2002 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Rose Cree on the Prairie Public Television show 'Native View' hosted by Pam Belgrade that aired on October 21, 1993, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Francis Cree on the Prairie Public Television show 'Native View' hosted by Pam Belgrade that aired on October 21, 1993, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Francis Cree answers the question 'Could you talk a little about your childhood?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Francis Cree tells a children's story of the rabbit and his ears, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Rose Cree answers the question 'What was your childhood like?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Francis Cree answers the question 'How long have the Chippewa been in North Dakota?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Francis Cree tells a children's story about a family crossing a lake, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, Interview by Alan Govenar