I started when I was 6 years old or younger even. I would go with my mom to teach others how to sew at the community centre. My mom taught me but there was an elder in town I used to visit and she was very encouraging when I made little moccasins. I used to show off that I could sew to the elders when I was younger and I think that made me try extra hard to do it well.
When I started making baskets, I remember crying when the quills poked my hands so I must have been pretty young. Sometimes it takes a week to sort out quills, dye them and make sure they are all the same thickness. I make my own design stencils out of Kraft Dinner or Lipton Soup boxes, of animals, birds and flowers. One time I timed myself to make one basket and it took about 24 hours. I love making them as it takes my mind off things and it is relaxing.
I think my work tells the story of how baskets have been used for centuries. Baskets used to be made with clay so you could boil water. Birch bark baskets were sealed with spruce gum and used to store water underground to keep it cold. They also used them for storage and bowl shaped baskets were used for eating food. When they used to travel they walked most of the time so they did not carry much and they just made new things for dishes. The history of baskets from this area is important to pass on – I do my best to continue to share those stories.
Karen (Kotchea) Cumberland was born and raised in the small northern community of Fort Liard, Northwest Territories, where she has practiced traditional artwork from a very young age. Originally guided by her mother, Karen made her first birchbark basket when she was just 10 years old. That basket earned her $60 at the local craft store and motivated Karen to refine her talents. Since then, she has established herself as one of the community's premier basket artists. Karen's Baskets are very popular with collectors and can be found in galleries throughout Canada. In 2007, she was chosen as an artist to represent the Northwest Territories at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon. Much to her delight, Karen sold all of her baskets in the opening day. Along with basket making, Karen also enjoys beading, quillwork, hide tanning and fish scale art.