Well recognized for her basket weaving skills, Rosabel Sylestine (1923–1998) was born in Elton, Louisiana and was a member of the Louisiana Coushatta Native American Tribe. Sylestine learned the technique of weaving using pine needles from her mother. Traditional Coushatta baskets could be woven from white oak, sedge grass, or swamp cane. In the 1900s tribe members began to weaving using needles from the native long-leaf pine, which were widely available as traditional weaving materials became difficult to acquire.
Basket weaving was once part of the daily life of the Coushatta and other Native American tribes. Sylestine shared about the practice in a 1973 interview: “As a child at home, around seven years of age, I became interested in the pine needles by playing with my mother’s gatherings. Then I grew to love the art my mother was creating with the straws. I would constantly be by my mother’s side when she was doing baskets, and I began to learn the art by beginning to feel the working of the straw…As I became more involved in the craft, I saw the potential of sales…My education is limited to the sixth grade, and I felt the training would help me to provide additional income for me and, later, for my family…I enjoy my work, as I have done this approximately for forty years…I love the environment we live in, among the pine timbers which have provided me all the ware I needed to do this work.”
Rosabel Sylestine’s works are in prominent collections, including the National Museum of the American Indian, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, and the Louisiana Art & Science Museum.
Rosabel Sylestine, Coushatta Coiled Pine Needle Basket and Lid, 1973. Pine needles, raffia, and pine cones, 6 x 10 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches. Gift of the artist. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 1973.022.005a-b
The Louisiana Coushatta Native American Tribe is one of three federally recognized tribes of the Koasati people. The other two tribes are located in Oklahoma and Texas.