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September 14, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, September 14, 2008

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

Most people see the kudzu vine as an invasive pest, but Nancy Basket wants them to know it can be turned into beautiful baskets, paper and even food.

Basket demonstrated how to weave dried kudzu for a variety of purposes on Friday and Saturday during the 24th annual Indian Festival. Creating art and household objects from kudzu and pine needles is part of her Cherokee heritage, she said, which teaches respect for nature and using every part of the plant.

"You don't have to waste a thing," said Basket, of South Carolina. "Kids need to be taught that everything in their backyards can be used."

In addition to basket weaving, split kudzu vines can be used to make cloth, the blossoms can be made into jelly and the roots into soap. Basket shares some kudzu recipes on her Web site,

This was the first year the Indian Festival offered basket weaving and pottery demonstrations, organizers said.

However, the festival, sponsored by the Virginia Museum of Natural History, was the final one. It will be replaced next year with a folklife festival.

The new festival is scheduled for Sept. 19, 2009, and will include Native

American culture along with "lots of new things from different cultures," said Ryan Barber, director of marketing and external affairs for the museum.

"With the diversity we have in the area, we thought it would be a good opportunity to bring everybody together," he said.

Carol Webb of Ridgeway was surprised to hear the news. Webb attended the Indian Festival on Saturday, holding hands with her granddaughter Neelya Webb, 6, as they browsed the Native American goods for sale.

"I think they deserve their own festival," said Webb, who has attended the Indian Festival off and on for several years.

Carolyn Seay, museum special events and facilities rental manager, heard from some festival-goers Saturday who were "very saddened" to hear that the festival will change, she said.

"I explained that it's nothing to be sad about - we're still going to see Native American culture, just a smaller version of this festival" with other groups represented, she said, adding that most people were pleased with that idea.
Martinsville resident Jeff Mansour and his children Sophia, 10, and Samuel, 6, had a busy day Saturday. They started at the Bassett Heritage Festival in the morning and visited the car show uptown before going to the Indian Festival.

"That's one of the things we like about living here: there's a lot to do," Mansour said.

Samuel said his favorite part so far was "the Indian dancing." Sophia agreed, especially "the man with the hoops."

The Chickahominy Tribal Dancers and others demonstrated dances from different tribes, from a hoop dance to men's and women's traditional. New this year were performances from Mexica Explendor, an Aztec dance group headed up by Geraldine Acevedo, originally from Peru, and her husband, Jose, from Mexico.

"Everybody's been talking about the Aztec dancers," Seay said.

The Acevedos and their children were slated to do a fire dance, but they had to change their program when the festival moved from outside of Martinsville Middle School to the indoor rain location at the former Bassett-Walker plant.

But the Aztec dancers had plenty of other dances to perform. On Friday, the youngest Acevedos staged a ceremonial battle in Aztec warrior regalia.

"(The dance) is basically a legend about two warriors who fight for the life of the people," Geraldine Acevedo explained. "One falls, and the eagle takes his soul to be free."

Wearing a shiny gold cape and elaborate feathered headress, Miguel, 8, fought his brother Enrique, 9. As the sound of drums echoed through the room, swords and shields clashed until Enrique fell to the ground.

Their brother Luis, 13, wearing a skull mask, danced over the fallen warrior, and then the eagle, played by 13-year-old sister Leslie, carried his soul into the sky with a boost from her father.

Patrick County resident Amy Conner said her children watched the dance and "loved it." Her son Logan, 4, sported tribal face paint and carried a wooden spear taller than he was.

"We've just been shopping and watching the dancers," Conner said. "I think (the festival) is great."

Joyce Wray, who runs Crystal Raven pottery studio in Fieldale, demonstrated traditional methods of making ceramics using clay she dug from the Smith River.

The pinch pot "is one of the earliest forms of making pottery," she said.

To make one, Wray pinched a small piece of clay between her fingers and thumbs and rapidly formed it into a bowl shape.

Coils or slabs of clay also can be used to make pots. However, the fastest way is the modern throwing wheel, she said.

"The kids have been fascinated with the wheel," Wray said.

Wray also showed examples of finished ceramic pieces that she fired in a pit, just like ceramics were fired in the past. The shiny black color of one pot came from the smoke, she said.

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