By Lisa Pemberton
Puyallup Tribal News Editor
Sharron Nelson, Puyallup Tribal elder, designed a series of light fixture graphics for the new Emerald Queen Casino.
“They’re all traditional basket designs that I learned from my friends and master weavers,” she said.
The Tribe’s new $400 million casino which opened on June 8 is chock-full of original artwork created by Puyallup Tribal members.
“They are all my relatives,” Nelson said of the other artists. “We are all descendants of Henry Allen, who was a canoe carver. It makes me happy to see all of the artwork that’s going in there (created by) his descendants.”
Nelson has been weaving for nearly 50 years.
“My twin Karen Reed was my first teacher, and she learned coil weaving from our grandmother, Hattie Cross,” Nelson said.
Reed is also one of the casino’s featured artists; she created a beautiful mural with a basket design of a canoe that is in the casino’s Waterway Deli.
Nelson said she enjoys attending Northwest Native American Basketweavers’ conferences, and teaching others how to weave.
“Over the years, I’ve had exhibits at different places,” she said. “It’s just the joy of my life.”
Nelson grew up in Seattle, and worked as a legal secretary for many years. She lives on Brown’s Point, where she raised her four daughters and son.
In the weaving world, her teachers and mentors include Teresa Parker of Makah, the late Bill James and his mother Fran of Lummi, Ethel Warbus of Lummi and “just people all over the Northwest.”
Many of those weavers’ designs were incorporated into the light fixtures, Nelson said. Basket designs were traditionally one way to capture Tribal stories and the Twulshootseed language. The designs on the light fixtures convey stories about community, fish, the water and other important messages for Tribal people.
Weaving is just one of the ways Nelson has practiced her culture and treaty rights. Her father was of the Quinault Indian Nation, and she grew up digging for clams and playing on the beach at Taholah. Later, she helped run her mom’s smoke shop on the Puyallup Reservation. Her mom Lucille (Cross) Reed was a Puyallup Tribal member, and her family still lives on original Puyallup allotment land on Valley Avenue.
“I sold fireworks for many years,” Nelson said. “I commercial fished. I did whatever I had to, to support those kids of mine.”
Puyallup Tribal member Chris Duenas digitized Nelson’s basket designs so that they could be enlarged and transferred onto the light fixtures. The eye-catching light fixtures are one of the major attractions in the puyaləpabš café.
Nelson said it makes her “heart warm” to have her work featured in the new casino.
“Basketweaving is my life,” she said.