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Almanor artist, teacher and writer’s third book celebrates ‘Picking Willows’

Mona Hill
Staff Writer
12/7/2011

Pat Kurtz, a longtime Plumas County resident, has published her third book, “Picking Willows with Daisy and Lilly Baker, Maidu Basket Makers of Lake Almanor.”

Kurtz, born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, grew up under the influence of Hawaii’s multicultural society. Her pan-Pacific upbringing gave her friends of all nationalities, as well as an appreciation of different cultures and traditions.

Kurtz developed her artistic interests at an early age: Her first commission came when she was 12.

She was a sophomore in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Immediately following the attack, authorities declared martial law and schools closed for three months.

Only 200 miles from Oahu, the Big Island was also not well-prepared: people hoarded, blackouts were mandatory and ID cards, immunization records and gas masks had to be carried at all times.

Soon after a Japanese submarine shelled Hilo, doing little damage to the piers, troops began to arrive, first by the hundreds, then by the thousands. Of that time, Kurtz writes: “(I) never saw so many white people. Barracks were built on vacant lots, army vehicles plied the highways and the backroads.”

Schools eventually opened again after bomb shelters were built on the playgrounds. Students attended school half-days for three days a week.

After her high school graduation, she sold many of her paintings to earn passage to the mainland for college.

In the era before flying became commonplace, Kurtz took passage aboard the SS Permanente, a troop ship converted from a cement carrier during World War II, with 250 other women and children.

Traveling in a convoy, it took 10 days to travel from Honolulu to San Francisco. It was her first trip off-island and Kurtz said she mostly passed the time playing poker with the crew.

After graduating from Principia College in Elsah, Ill., with a degree in fine arts, Kurtz landed a job in Plumas County teaching art at Greenville High. For her, the mountain valley and its residents represented complete culture shock — so different from Hawaii and Illinois.

During her second year in Greenville, she and Cornell Kurtz, of Toledo, Ohio, married and he began teaching sixth grade in Greenville.

The couple spent the first four years of married life living at Feather River Fox Farm on Lake Almanor’s West Shore. While daughter Kit was a baby, they built a house on the East Shore.

That is where she met Daisy Baker and her daughter, Lilly. The women were the last two basket makers from a family known for its intricate and finely woven baskets.

The Baker women worked for the Kurtz family off and on over the years, helping to care for young Kit and later Pat, following a serious automobile accident.

Daisy Baker, already aged by the time she met Kurtz, was a well-known Maidu elder and basket maker. She died in 1964.

Eventually, Lilly returned to work in the Kurtz home and lived there as a member of their family for 27 years. She died in 2006, at the age of 95.

While Kurtz was busy with an active art studio and gallery, summer art workshops, teaching at Greenville and Westwood high schools and for Feather River and Lassen colleges, as well as working for the Plumas County Arts Commission, she was also encouraging Lilly Baker to show family baskets and to promote her Maidu heritage.

“Picking Willows” is Kurtz’s account of the strong and loving relationship between the Baker and Kurtz families. From Lilly and Daisy, Kurtz developed a keen appreciation of the artistry and skill displayed in the women’s baskets.

Her second book, “Our Precious Legacy” catalogs the baskets made by the women of the Meadows-Baker families, dating back to Jennie Meadows, who was born circa 1850.

“Our Precious Legacy” was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of Maidu baskets at the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville. The exhibit opened in February 2010 and closes at the end of April 2012.

As she learned more of the Mountain Maidu history from the Baker women, Kurtz became an advocate for preservation of their culture and traditions.

“Mountain Maidu and Pioneers” is a history of Indian Valley from 1850 to 1920. Initially written for her master’s thesis, Kurtz developed it into a book at the urging of professors, and filled it with photos and details of Indian Valley life, white and Maidu.

Kurtz now spends her winters in Hilo and summers at Almanor.

 


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