Mabel McKay

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Mabel McKay
Born(1907-01-12)January 12, 1907
DiedMay 31, 1993(1993-05-31) (aged 86)
EducationSpiritual training, self-taught
Known forBasket weaving

Mabel McKay (1907–1993) was a member of the Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo Indians and was of Patwin descent. She was the last Dreamer of the Pomo people and a basket making prodigy.

Greg Sarris published a biography of Mabel, called Weaving the Dream (University of California Press, 1997), which follows Mabel’s way of storytelling – a meandering one which describes her work as a dreamer, doctor, and basket weaver.

Life as doctor and weaver[edit]

Mabel McKay was born on 12 January 1907 in Nice in Lake County, California. Her father was Yanta Boone (Potter Valley Pomo) and her mother was Daisy Hansen (Lolsel Cache Creek Pomo).[1] Raised by her maternal grandmother, Sarah Taylor, Mabel was described as an unusually quiet little girl. She was considered a sickly child whom talked in her sleep and often woke screaming from dreams. Sarah, her grandmother, remembers hearing Mabel mumble in her sleep. Sarah knew what was happening to Mabel, she understood that she was Dreaming. As she grew older, Mabel would sometimes sleep for days and Sarah Taylor would have a hard time waking her up. Spirit would talk to Mabel in her dreams telling her necessary steps to take in order to fulfill her role as a doctor. Like a shaman, Mabel was a medium between the spiritual and the real world.

Mabel was taught by Spirit in her Dreaming to be a doctor and a basket weaver. Spirit taught Mabel how to suck sickness from the ill with her mouth and spit it out into her baskets. Spirit taught Mabel certain songs to put sicknesses to sleep, songs which Mabel would not remember after singing them. Mabel had to work with an interpreter who thoroughly understood her language and could translate to the people what she was saying in her songs.


During her Dreaming she was told that her baskets would come from Spirit that she would be famous for them, and people would offer a lot of money for them. Spirit directed her on each basket she wove. Mabel used prayer as a way of communicating to Spirit, and in return Spirit showed Mabel what to make for each person. Each of her baskets had a purpose. Each had a rule. Many people could not understand her process but Mabel was successful in explaining that her baskets are living, not just pretty things to look at.

Mabel was a well-respected scholar. She spoke at universities and served as a cultural consultant for anthropologists. She spoke at the New School in New York with Essie Parrish on March 14, 1972.[2] As a weaver her skill and attention to detail brought worldwide recognition to her basketry. Her baskets are shown in many museum collections in the U.S. and abroad. Weaving for Mabel was a spiritual path, not a craft. She was never 'taught' to weave a basket. Instead she was strictly instructed by Spirit as a Dreamer.


Mabel not only healed people but brought a whole community together. Through her dreaming and the resurgence of old traditions Mabel encouraged people living in the present to appreciate their culture, to embrace it and to celebrate their heritage. Dreamers renew a tribe’s history and culture, and Mabel was the last of the dreamers to pass on that legacy of Pomo Indian customs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Luthin, 324
  2. ^ Rothenburg, Jerome. "Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (52): Essie Parish in New York". Jerome Rothenburg Poems and Poetics. Retrieved 2013-04-08.


  • Ludwig, David. 1994. Pomo Basketweavers: A Tribute To Three Elders. Creative Light Production. Video.
  • Luthin, Herbert W. Surviving through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22270-0.
  • Farris, Phoebe (1999). Women artists of color : a bio-critical sourcebook to 20th century artists in the Americas. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 62. ISBN 0-313-30374-6. OCLC 40193578.
  • Matuz, R. (1998). St. James guide to native North American artists. Detroit: St. James Press. pp.369-370. ISBN 978-1-558-62221-0.
  • Sarris, Greg. 1993. Keeping slug woman alive: A holistic approach to American Indian texts. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08007-2.
  • Sarris, Greg. 1994. Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20968-8.