Lisa Telford's work has been shown around the U.S. and overseas, but only now does the Snohomish County artist have her first show locally.

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They may not know Lisa Telford in Everett, but they know her in New Zealand.

And they know her in Santa Fe, N.M., in Phoenix, in Indianapolis, in New York City.

And at the Smithsonian Institution, which owns two of her baskets and where her work has been shown at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Telford’s résumé of the exhibits and collections that her work has been in, and of her honors and awards, fills three pages.

A display case at the Snohomish County Administration Building is hosting the first local exhibit of this Haida artist. There are clan baskets, seaweed baskets, bottles, jewelry, hats and other art, including a basket by her grandmother, who also has work in Chicago’s Field Museum and the Smithsonian.

“Form follows function with Haida basketry,” Telford said, as office workers stopped to watch her set up the exhibit recently. “Everything has a purpose.”

Telford exhibit, Native celebration


What: An exhibit of Lisa Telford’s baskets and weavings will be on display though mid-October. Snohomish County will sponsor a Native American celebration Sept. 28 that will feature singer Pura Fé, Tlingit storyteller and actor Gene Tagaban, educational displays, arts and crafts, and Native food.

Where: Telford’s exhibit is in the west lobby of the Snohomish County Administration Building’s older section, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett. The Native American celebration will be on the outdoor plaza.

Admission: free.

One basket is for clams, another for potatoes, another for storing dried fish. A cedar cape is draped on a mannequin in the exhibit. A picture shows a woven cedar dress by Telford that she calls “A Night on the Village.” Telford made a story out of the latter piece.

“The fishermen come in, and they’re all rich with fish,” and a woman wants “to go find a rich husband,” Telford said with a grin. “So she gets dressed up.”

Telford isn’t the only low-profile Snohomish County artist with a national reputation.

Thomas William Jones, an egg-tempera master from the Snohomish area, has painted Christmas cards for Vice President Dick Cheney and then-President Reagan. William Morris of the Stanwood area has blown glass at the nearby Pilchuck Glass School for years; his work is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Louvre in Paris.

Many local artists are known better nationally than locally. Why?

“Who knows?” said Telford. “… It just seems like opportunities pop up in other places.”

Telford’s roots are in Alaska and the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia.

Her mother moved the family from Ketchikan, Alaska, around the country after her father died. Then, for 16 years, Telford was a carpenter, transferring her trade affiliations when she moved back to the Northwest from Indiana. In 1996, she took a position as a job developer with a nonprofit organization called ANEW — Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women and Men.

Being a carpenter, “everything is mathematical,” Telford said. “There has to be logic and reason. And so I grew up with that. Everything has to be even; it has to be plumb, square. And so when I first started weaving, everything had to have a certain count.”

Baskets can take Telford five to 200 hours to make. She learned weaving from her grandmother, mother, cousins and, in particular, her aunt.

In Washington state, Telford has shown work at the Longhouse Educational and Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College in Thurston County, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, and at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art in Bellingham. In 2003, Telford presented a two-day seminar on basketry at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

This year, Telford received a visiting-researcher grant from the Burke Museum’s Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art.

Telford’s daughter, Selina Hobelman, who lives on Camano Island, said: “I have so much pride in my mom. Many of these baskets are in my house.”

Hobelman, Telford and other basket artists harvest red and yellow cedar bark and various roots each spring. The cedar is rolled and dried for a year. The twine is spun by hand against the thigh. Hobelman’s daughter, Alecia Groce, started at age 2, and at 10, she’s spinning and weaving like her grandmother.

“With all of our family, it wasn’t forced on any of us. We had to kind of come into it in our own time,” Hobelman said.

Telford called basketry “my thread to sanity.”

Four days a week, she faces an Everett-to-Renton commute, and “every night I like to unwind, creating a beautiful piece of art,” she said. “Weaving brings me such happiness.”

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com