How Lisa Telford Harvests Cedar Bark and Her Traditional Pre-Contact Clothing
Our January/February 2010 issue features artist Lisa Telford, who weaves baskets,
hats, and traditional pre-contact clothing from the bark of red and yellow cedar
trees. Telford creates her work by employing the materials and techniques of traditional
Haida weaving. The Haida people historically live and work on the Queen Charlotte
Islands, located off the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Telford, who is
descended from generations of Haida weavers, begins the weaving process by venturing
into the mountains and harvesting the cedar bark herself. Here, Telford shares
the process by which she gathers the cedar bark needed for her projects and examples
of her traditional garments.
Harvesting Cedar Bark
Telford’s granddaughter Alecia Groce at age 7. Alecia
is taking the outer bark off red cedar strip pulled by Telford’s son-in-law
Josh Hobelman. Photo: Selina Hobelman.
Before weaving can begin, the harvesting must be done. Once a year, in the
spring, I harvest red and yellow cedar bark to use in my basketry and traditional
To harvest the cedar, I travel up the mountain to elevations of two thousand
feet or higher. I am looking for a tree with limbs beginning twenty feet or higher,
so I will get a nice long piece of bark without limb holes. The tree must be healthy,
straight, and the bark not twisting.
I thank the tree for giving me her beautiful clothing. I remind the tree,
she will live on in clothing and basketry for all to admire. The process begins:
cutting through the outer bark down to the wood, making two vertical slits two
fingers apart. I now have a narrow strip of bark still attached to the tree, which
I cut horizontally in between my two cuts. I pry up the bark and pull it off the
tree. The bark will pull off the tree about ten to fifteen feet long. This strip
is called the road; it sets the path of the next strip. The next strip will be
the width of my hand and pull off twenty to thirty feet long; a third strip will
be even longer.
The next step is to remove the outer bark from the actual material I will be
using. Starting at the top of the strip, I gently pull up the inner bark until
the outer bark is completely off. I roll the bark and store it in a plastic bag
to prevent drying. When I return home, I split the bark into two layers, depending
on use, roll it, and hang it to dry for one to two weeks. The bark is stored for
one year before use. This entire process takes three days. It is enough material
to keep me busy weaving for six months.
Traditional Pre-Contact Clothing
Twined Hat, 2006; red and yellow cedar bark; twined; 6"
x 14". Photo: Jerry McCollum.
Canoe Cape, 2001; red cedar bark, cotton cordage, spun yellow
cedar cordage, sea otter fur trim; pounded and softened red cedar bark, cooked
thigh spun yellow cedar cordage, woven; 21" x 44"(bottom) x 14"(top).
Photo: Jerry McCollum.
Dance Apron; red cedar bark, yellow cedar two strand twine,
sea otter fur, deer toes; pounded red cedar bark, cooked and thigh spun yellow
cedar, woven; 16" x 22". Photo: Jerry McCullom.
Red Banded Women’s Work Basket, 2006; red and yellow cedar bark, red
dye; two- and three-strand twined; 10" x 10 3/8". Photo by the artist.
Twined Covered Rattle Top, 2003; red and yellow cedar bark, black and red
dye; two- and three-strand twined; 3 3/8" x 3½". Photo by the