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 was renowned for her basket weaving.


McKay was born on 12 January 1907 in Nice in Lake County, California.[1] Her father was Yanta Boone (Potter Valley Pomo) and her mother was Daisy Hansen (Lolsel Cache Creek Pomo).[2] She was raised by her maternal grandmother, Sarah Taylor, who taught her both the Long Valley Cache Creek language and how to identify and forage for medicinal plants.[1][3] At the age of eight, she was guided by her dreams to weave her first basket.[3][4] She did not attend school past the third grade due to a series of illnesses.[1]


Weaving for McKay was a spiritual path, not a craft.[5] She claimed she was strictly instructed by Spirit as to how and what to weave.[5] Because of the sacred nature of her weaving, she usually wove in private.[4] She used sedge for her baskets, and redbud for the red designs, as per Pomo tradition.[1][5] Some of her baskets also used feathers.[5] Her baskets were featured in many newspapers as a prodigy of her craft.[3] She began giving demonstrations in the State Indian Museum in Sacramento, refusing to sell them and only giving them as gifts.[3] In the late 1970s she began teaching basket-weaving classes for both native and non-native students.[1] She continued with her baskets until death, and many have been exhibited in museums such as the National Museum of Natural History.[3]

Academic and advisory work[edit]

In the late 1960s McKay was on the Native American Advisory Council for a proposed dam in Dry Creek, which would disturb an ancestral Pomo village site and long-standing beds of sedge.[1] Although they could not prevent the dam's construction, the council was able to document the site and transplant some of the sedge beds.[1] McKay also 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.[6] In 1976 she was appointed to California's first Native American Heritage Commission.[3][7]


McKay also became a well known-healer among those in her community.[4] She was one of the last Pomo dream doctors, and would often travel great distances to tend to her patients.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Prior to the end of World War ll, Mabel married Charlie McKay,[8] with whom she had a son, Marshall (1952-2021).[7] After Charlie died in the 1960s, McKay worked at an apple cannery.[9]


McKay died on May 31, 1993, and was buried next to Essie Parish in the Kashaya Pomo cemetery.[8]


From 2016 to 2017 the Autry Museum of the American West exhibited McKay's work in an exhibit titled "The Life and Work of Mabel McKay".[10][11][12] Her son, Marshall McKay, helped put together the exhibit.[7]


Greg Sarris published a biography of Mabel in 1997, called Weaving the Dream (University of California Press).

McKay's work has been cited as having inspired other artists, including Dineh artist Leatrice Mikkelsen.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Laduzinsky, Paige (2016-11-11). "Mabel McKay: She Wove. She Taught. She Healed. She Changed The World". KCET. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  2. ^ Luthin, Herbert W. (2002). Surviving through the days : translations of Native California stories and songs : a California Indian reader. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-520-93536-5. OCLC 55857929.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Mabel McKay". California Museum. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  4. ^ a b c "Tending the Wild: Pomo Basket Weaver Mabel McKay Gives a Lesson". PBS. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Hough, Sheridan (2003). "Phenomenology, Pomo Baskets, and the Work of Mabel McKay". Hypatia. 18 (2): 103–113. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2003.tb00805.x. ISSN 0887-5367. JSTOR 3811015. S2CID 144540902.
  6. ^ Rothenburg, Jerome. "Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (52): Essie Parish in New York". Jerome Rothenburg Poems and Poetics. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  7. ^ a b c "Marshall McKay, Indigenous leader who helped steer Autry Museum, dies of COVID-19 at 68". Los Angeles Times. 2021-01-03. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  8. ^ a b Greg, Sarris (1997). Mable McKay : Weaving the Dream. University of California Press. pp. 98, 100, 166. ISBN 0-520-20968-0. OCLC 611771090.
  9. ^ Autry Museum of the American West (10 July 2020). "The Story of Mabel McKay". YouTube. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  10. ^ "The Life and Work of Mabel McKay". INDEPENDENT EXHIBITIONS. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  11. ^ "New Autry Museum project celebrates Native people and the environment". Daily News. 2016-10-09. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  12. ^ Jao, Carren (2016-10-14). "A new garden at the Autry Museum offers a glimpse of the past and the future". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  13. ^ "New at Piante: Contemporary Native American artists". Times-Standard. 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2023-01-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ludwig, David. 1994. Pomo Basketweavers: A Tribute To Three Elders. Creative Light Production. Video.
  • 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.