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Ruby Thomas - November 2001

The Highlight of the Month program at The Indian Craft Shop focuses on a particular craft area, region or artist family/group. Our aim is to illustrate the diversity of tribal groups and the wide variety of artistic expressions and traditions in the country today.

Ruby Thomas is one of the most accomplished horsehair basket weavers of the Tohono O'odham Tribe. She is a master at creating these intricate, amazingly fine miniature baskets that can range from three to six inches in diameter.

Ruby uses traditional designs, but also incorporates scenes from her tribe's life. Sometimes she has concentric circles of men and women holding hands in Friendship Baskets that are reminiscent of the Tohono O'odham Friendship Pots. These are depictions of the tribal members dancing around the fire at the annual Saguaro Festival. In other baskets, Ruby depicts people picking the saguaro fruit with long poles.

The Tohono O'odham (Papago) of southern Arizona have always been known for their skill in basket weaving. This tribe produces more baskets than any other Southwestern tribe today. Their most common baskets are made of yucca, beargrass and devil’s claw using coiling techniques of close stitches, split stitches and spaced stitches. They will use geometric designs or depict squash blossoms, animals, people or the man in the maze design that is their tribal symbol. They also make charming effigy baskets.

Horsehair baskets were first produced by the Tohono O'odham as miniature versions of their yucca baskets to sell to tourists. In the 1970s, the weavers began to use fine stitches and make figures. Then in the 1980s, some young women started to make horsehair baskets as large as 12" in diameter with very elaborate designs. One of these innovative weavers was Dorina Garcia, Ruby's oldest sister.

Ruby's mother, Helen Garcia, was known for her excellent traditional yucca and devil’s claw baskets. She made sure that all of her daughters learned to weave. When Ruby was eighteen, she started making baskets by imitating what she saw her sister Dorina doing, and has been weaving these complex miniature baskets ever since, for 26 years now. Ruby is now beginning to teach her oldest daughter, Princess, to weave. Ruby has won first place awards and ribbons at many distinguished events, such as O'odham Tash, Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial and the Heard Museum Show.

                                                              ©The Indian Craft Shop 2001