By Linda Perala-Hunt
Some of us may see pine needles as a chore we have to tend to in the spring and fall when the large swaying pine trees shed their needles, and need to be raked from our yards. Mimi Bonkowske sees a basket. It was seventeen years ago after moving to Colorado, that Mimi attempted her first effort at basketry using instinct and memory of a basket she had seen in a museum years before.
Being basically self taught and developing a technique she calls her own, Mimi uses Ponderosa pine needles that have been soaked, raffia or twine and embellishes the baskets with feathers, stones, and other natural objects. When Mimi weaves a vessel, a symbol of historical and spiritual significance, each one unique and a one of a kind fine art craft basket.
Pine needle basketry coiling was part of Native Americans life style in Pre-Columbian times, and is now a viable part of our American cultural heritage. Employing ancient coiling techniques and long-leaf pine needles, this art form has remained virtually the same for thousands of years. The art of coiling baskets is universally common to indigenous peoples, using natural materials that are native to their areas.
Traditionally baskets were utilitarian and were used to carry water, cook food in and for storage. Today, pine needle baskets and art are made primarily for decorative purposes. Yet it has evolved into the 21st century, bringing with its connections to our past, a need to preserve our natural resources, and appreciate our planet’s gifts to mankind.
Mimi is paying homage to the landscape and to the spirits of the Pines, that a Native Elder told her are believed to protect the soul from evil. Mimi titles her pieces with fitting names of the southwest and spiritual lore, like “Wolf Medicine”, “Woodland Spirit”, and “Ceremonial Prayers”. What better way to keep tuned into Mother Nature, than to gather fragrant pine needles from her forest floor and weave them into baskets of such natural beauty, that are timeless, with curative and protective powers.