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July 31, 2005

Dat–so–la–lee — 'The greatest of all American Indian basket weavers'


So said Gene Quintana, an American Indian basketry expert, in an article by Martin Griffith of the Associated Press published last Sunday, July 24.

He continued, "When I walk into a museum, I can tell her baskets. They represent perfection." (Five of her baskets are pictured in this post.)

Dat–so–la–lee (below)


was a Washoe Indian born between 1829 and 1850 near the mining town of Sheridan in Carson Valley, Nevada.

Her real name was Louisa Keyser but it was changed by her employer, Amy Cohn, who made her a star attraction at the Bicose curio shop at Tahoe City in the early 1900s.

Dat–so–la–lee made miniature willow souvenir baskets for tourists and collectors that sold for $2 to $6 apiece.

Most measured no more than 5" high.

Now these baskets command prices of $7,000 to $25,000 and up.

She had huge hands (below, the artist at work)


yet created works of astonishing delicacy, including baskets so tiny they require a magnifying glass to see.

Three such "miniatures among miniatures," each less than half the size of a dime, are among the 62 baskets on display at a show of her work now ongoing at the Gatekeeper's Museum in Tahoe City, California through October 31.

The exhibit, the first ever to feature her baskets, is entitled "Woven Legacy: A Collection of Dat–so–la–lee Works, 1900–1921."

Her larger baskets sold for as much as $2,000 during her lifetime (she died in 1925) and now are worth as much as $1 million, the highest price commanded by any American Indian weaver.


In 2001 one of her baskets sold for $750,000.

Here's the AP story.

    Basket Weaver’s Artistry Attracts Fans, Big Prices

    After her tribe’s traditional way of life was swallowed up by white settlers, the master Washoe weaver spent summers on Lake Tahoe’s shoreline making souvenir baskets for tourists and collectors that would one day be worth as much as $1 million each.

    Dat-so-la-lee also crafted small models of traditional baskets for her employer, Amy Cohn, who made her a star attraction at The Bicose curio shop at Tahoe City in the early 1900s.

    Eighty years after Dat-so-la-lee’s death, a special exhibit of 62 of those "miniatures" is on public display for the first time through Oct. 31 at the Gatekeeper’s Museum, just down the north shore from where the curio shop once stood.


    While most measure no more than 5 inches, the works are as impressive as her large baskets, said Gene Quintana, an American Indian basketry collector and appraiser based in Carmichael, Calif., who owns the collection.

    The willow miniatures reflect the same craftsmanship and design that made Dat-so-la-lee one of the best-known basket weavers, he said.

    "I think she’s the greatest American Indian basket maker by far," Quintana said in a telephone interview.

    "When I walk into a museum, I can tell her baskets. They represent perfection in basketry."

    Even those unfamiliar with American Indian basketry will come away from the exhibit with an appreciation for Dat-so-la-lee’s artistry, said Sue Ann Monteleone, registrar at the Nevada State Museum in nearby Carson City, Nev.

    "I think it’s an impressive exhibit," Monteleone said.

    "She was one of the greatest weavers in the world of all time. I think people will enjoy the fineness and perfection of her weaving and the beauty of her designs."

    The exhibit celebrates a woman who began weaving baskets for traditional activities such as cooking and storage not long after her birth, about 1850.

    Like other American Indian women, Dat-so-la-lee switched to making baskets for tourists and collectors after her tribe’s way of life was disrupted by whites.

    The Washoes used to spend summers at Lake Tahoe and winters in the Carson City area.

    With huge, nimble hands, Dat-so-la-lee earned international acclaim for the minute care with which she created spiraling surfaces of interlocking stitches.

    She was successfully marketed by Cohn, who promoted her as the "Indian Princess" Dat-so-la-lee and spun tales about her to command higher prices.

    Her real name was Louisa Keyser.

    "Woven Legacy: A Collection of Dat-so-la-lee Works, 1900-1921" also features models of other traditional objects she made: seed beaters, medicine bottles, winnowing trays, baby carriers and gambling sticks.

    Other highlights include the only known fish trap and beaded basket made by Dat-so-la-lee, a basket partly chewed by Cohn’s dog and "The Miniatures Among Miniatures" - baskets so tiny they require a magnifying glass to see.

    Those baskets - each less than half the size of a dime - are showstoppers, said Sara Larson, museum director.

    "You have to get right up there to see that they’re actually tiny baskets," Larson said.

    "It’s a demonstration of her skill. It’s so difficult to strip the willow down to a thread that fine. And to be able to weave something with it is amazing."


    Quintana’s personal favorites are two flawless "degikups," a form of basketry that Dat-so-la-lee introduced featuring a handsome spherical shape and smaller mouth.

    One of the baskets - titled "Men Assembled for Cult Ceremonies" - features 10 diagonal bands of H’s, all in blackish bracken fern.

    The other basket, "Family Crest," is notable for its complex triangular motif in six columns.

    "Those two baskets really stand out to me," Quintana said.

    "The shape and weaving is so nice and tight, and the design is well-executed. Other basket makers have too much design. Her design is not crowded."

    Stefanie Givens, assistant museum director, agreed: "Her designs are gorgeous and beautiful, definitely a treat for the eyes."

    The baskets are typical of Dat-so-la-lee works that tourists and collectors used to purchase for $2 to $6 when she worked for Cohn and her husband, Abe, at their stores in Tahoe City and Carson City.

    Such works now fetch from $7,000 to $25,000, Quintana said.

    Some of her larger baskets that sold for as much as $2,000 during her lifetime now are worth as much as $1 million, making her works the priciest of any American Indian, Quintana said.

    One of her baskets sold for $750,000 in 2001.

    "It’s all about supply and demand. There’s just not enough Dat-so-la-lee baskets for people who want them," he said.


    Quintana, 64, bought the collection in 1984 from a Napa Valley family that acquired it in 1935 from Abe Cohn’s second wife.

July 31, 2005 at 02:31 PM | Permalink


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If anyone would like a Old indian appraised

please send me a E mail vipbasketman@aol.com

Posted by: Gene Quintana | Apr 29, 2008 5:34:44 PM

The Suquamish Museum on the Port Madison reservation in Washington state is a possibility, as is IslandWood (www.islandwood.org) on nearby Bainbridge Island.

Posted by: | Sep 18, 2006 6:46:39 PM

I saw your name in an ad in a publication "American Indian Basketry and Other Native Arts" No. 15. Published in 1984. I have an Indian basket, I am looking to find a new home for it. It is made by Ed Carriere of Suquamish tribe, WA State.
Any information will be helpful.
Thanks, Dr Dorie Erickson, Ph.D., C.N.C.

Posted by: Dorie Erickson | Jun 14, 2006 7:25:55 PM

I have a basket that may have been made by Dat So La Lee, I took the basket to the nevada Historical society where Andrea Mugnier looked at it and said there is a good chance that it was indeed a Dat So La Lee, she suggested that I have Don Tuohy at the museum in Carson look at it but he retired before I could get in touch with him.I would like to have an expert look at my basket to confirm who made it any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Craig Jackson | May 15, 2006 8:12:37 PM

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