Collected on March 20, 1913 (reg. no. LK52/18)
Collection of Herbert G. Wellington
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Color and Shape In American Indian Art,' New York, March 25 – July 3, 1983
Color and Shape In American Indian Art, Zena Pearlstone Mathews, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983, p. 5, no. 2, illustrated
Pleasing the Spirits, Douglas C. Ewing, New York, 1982, p. 318, pl. 381, illustrated
For a discussion of the Washoe basket making tradition and Dat-so-la-lee, see George Wharton James, Indian Basketry, Rio Grande Press, 1903, p. 61: "The Washoes are a small remnant of once powerful tribe that inhabited the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the region of Reno and Carson City."
Ibid, p. 115: "The 'queen' of the Washoe weavers is Dat-so-la-lee, a full-blooded Indian...whose work is wonderful in its shape, symbolization and weave. Though heavy and plump, her delicacy of touch, artistic skill and poetical conception excite admiration. Her hand is symmetrically perfect, her fingers plump and tapering and her nails beautiful 'filberts.' She is fully conscious of the sensations and emotions that her work arouses in the hearts of connoisseurs."
Also see Marvin Cohodas, Degikup Fancy Basketry 1895-1935, The University of British Columbia Press, 1979, pp. 20-23: "Dat so la lee was the earliest Washoe basketry artist to devote herself to weaving baskets primarily for sale. Her origin is shrouded in mystery and conflicting opinions. Her father's Washoe name was Da da uongala; her mother's is unknown. Her date of birth has always been exaggerated at about 1835. She was more likely born around 1850, but this still makes Dat so la lee nearly a generation older than any of the weavers on whom information is more complete. Dat so la lee, whose Washoe name means "wide hips", was also called by the Washoe name Dabuda in the first half of her life. Her first two marriages are suggested through conflicting reports. Dr. S. L. Lee, whose records have frequently proven inaccurate, mentions that she was first married into the family of Lame Tom, and she later married a Jim. Only her last husband, Charlie Keyser, is well known and remembered, primarily because he is survived by descendents of his first two wives, Delia Aleck and her sister Maggie Miles Merril. Dat so la lee was married to Charlie Keyser during the time that she wove baskets for sale, and was known by the English name, Louisa Keyser. No children survived from any of Dat so la lee's three marriages and she died on December 6, 1925.
Dat so la lee was a member of the Southern Washoe group associated with Carson Valley and Alpine County. As a young woman she worked as a domestic and she apparently first met Abe Cohn, later her patron, while employed by his parents at Monitor in Alpine County. When Abe Cohn became a Carson City entrepreneur he hired Dat so la lee to weave baskets exclusively for him to sell. For 30 years, from 1895 until her death in 1925, Dat so la lee wove her baskets for Cohn's Emporium while Cohn supported her and Charlie Keyser. Freed from both domestic chores and the struggle for survival, Dat so la lee became a full time artist-specialist. As a result, her artistry in basketry was never surpassed.
The arrangement which Abe Cohn made with Dat so la lee was unprecedented in the history of American Indian arts, and even today it is the subject of much discussion. Non-Indian informants consider Cohn to have been a benevolent and generous patron who allowed Dat so la lee the leisure to develop her artistic gift. While other weavers received only tiny sums of money or food in exchange for the baskets they wove to supplement their earnings, Dat so la lee was completely spared the economic insecurity that had always plagued her people. Cohn's acceptance of the responsibility as sole patron of Dat so la lee could be considered a clear recognition of her artistic gift, and of the artistic value of Washoe basketry. Conversely, Washoe informants deplore Cohn's exploitation of Dat so la lee. Although he gave her little more support than any Washoe servant would receive, he was able to vastly increase his income from her baskets by promoting her throughout the country. Despite these conflicting opinions, it seems most likely that Cohn thought of himself as neither the exploiter of a menial Washoe servant nor as the benevolent patron of a creative genius, but simply as a shrewd businessman with an eye for talent.
Abe Cohn sold baskets by many weavers other than Dat so la lee, as photos of his Emporium show. He kept records of all the baskets he sold, often including the name of the weaver, but lamentably these records appear to have been lost. What does survive is Cohn's detailed ledger recording all of the baskets which Dat so la lee produced during the 30 years of his patronage. It includes such details as the dates on which a basket was begun and finished, the dimensions of the basket and the number of stitches per inch, and a description of the design. Unfortunately, Cohn added some poetic interpretations of these designs based on a symbolic vocabulary he had worked out. Cohn also produced certificates for each basket in which this information was duplicated, which were given with the basket when sold to provide the documentation. While the certificate of documentation has sometimes been lost, the tag which Cohn affixed to the bottom of the basket, with the initials L. K. (Louisa Keyser) and the ledger number, still remain in most cases to identify her work."
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