As the queen of the Washoe Indian Basket Weavers, Dat So La Lee made hundreds of baskets.
Known by many names — her birth name, dabuda; her nickname, dat so la lee; her anglo married name, Louisa Keyser — she, by any moniker, is considered the queen of the Washoe Indian Basket Weavers.
Born in the 1820s or ’30s near what would become the mining town of Sheridan in Carson Valley, Nevada, Keyser belonged to the southern Washoe, a tribe known for basketmaking. She would take the traditional art to a new level, painstakingly crafting sculptural coiled willow baskets of such skill and aesthetic innovation that they would one day fetch six figures and be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In her early years, Keyser did laundry and cooked for miners and their wives. Then she met Carson Valley entrepreneur Abe Cohn, who hired her to weave baskets exclusively for him to sell at his Emporium in Carson. Sponsor, manager, and agent, he gave her the name Dat So La Lee, “Queen of the Basketmakers.” Although Cohn kept most of the money from the baskets, their 30-year arrangement allowed Keyser to weave full time.
She died in 1925, having made hundreds of baskets. “She was among the last of those Washoe weavers whose ancient art had been practiced by countless generations,” wrote Esther Summerfield for the Nevada State Historical Society. “Her memories and her visions are beautifully woven into her baskets and will live on to remind us of the history and unique tribal artistry of her people, the Washoe Indians.”
Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art From the Diker Collection is on view through September 13 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Don’t miss the largest collection of Washoe baskets ever assembled — including the rare Datsolalee Miniature Basket Collection and numerous other works by Dat So La Lee — as part of Tahoe: A Visual History, at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, August 22, 2015 – January 10, 2016.
From the August/September 2015 issue.