August Wood on preserving cultural artisan traditions

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August Wood is a traditional artist. A member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Wood makes baskets and clay pots from the natural materials he collects along the nearby rivers and wetlands. As the drought continues to take its toll throughout the Southwest, finding many of those materials has become increasingly more of a challenge. Plants such as willow, cattail and devil’s claw are particularly hard to come by, but Wood is committed to preserving the cultural traditions of the artisans who came before him.

“I think of it as being a way to express who we are as individuals and as a people,” Wood said. “We take inspiration from the land around us. And I think it’s a great way for us to express how we have managed to be here for many centuries.”

The son of a painter, Wood’s creative inspiration comes from a variety of sources: from baskets he has seen in museums and galleries and in the homes of family and friends, to pottery shards found scattered on the ground. And while he finds fulfillment in creating his own artwork, he also is committed to sharing the artistic legacy of the O’odham culture with others, including future traditional artists who are developing their skills and non-native people who are developing an appreciation for Native American culture.

“When they look at things they learn about, who it’s from or where it’s from,” Wood said, “it helps them understand that, ‘Oh yeah, these people are still around and these people still produce these things and these are the things that they use to create these pieces’, and it helps give them a better understanding that we’re still around.”

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