Published on May 30, 2014 by Amy
Elsie Allen (22 September 1899 – 31 December 1990) was a Native American Pomo basket weaver from the Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California in Northern California, significant as for historically categorizing and teaching Californian Indian basket patterns and techniques and sustaining traditional Pomo basketry as an art form.
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Elsie Comanche Allen was born in 22 September 1899 to George and Annie Comanche (Comanche is an Anglicized version of the Pomo name, Gomachu). Her first language was Pomo. She lived in several Pomo communities, including Cloverdale, Hopland, and Pinoleville Rancherias. She came from a family of accomplished basketweavers, including her mother, Annie Ramon Gomachu Burke (1876–1962) and her maternal grandmother, Mary Arnold (1845–1925), both of Cloverdale Rancheria. Elsie’s mother, Annie founded the Pomo Indian Women’s Club, which promotes the tribe’s basketry. She also convinced Elsie to break with tradition and not burn or bury her baskets – instead to keep them for future basketmakers.
Elsie married Arthur Allen, a northern Pomo, in 1919. Together the couple had four children, Genevieve, Leonard, Dorothy, and George.
Although she learned to weave as a child, Allen was only able to weave full time at the age of 62, when her children were all grown. During the 1950s and 1960s, interest in basketry among Pomo had waned, so Allen began teaching anyone interested in learning her technique, which created controversy in her tribe. She taught at the Mendocino Art Center. Late in her career, Elsie Allen began using commercial materials in her baskets after receiving a vision. One of her last student was her own niece, Susan Billy.
Allen worked with linguist Abraham M. Halpern to document the Southern Pomo language.
Allen died on the 31 December 1990.
Together with Mabel McKay, Laura Somersal, Elsie Allen is regarded as one of the three best known California basketweavers of her generation. Allen is the subject of several books, including Dot Brovarney, Susan Billy, and Suzanne Abel-Vidor’s 2005 Remember Your Relations: Elsie Allen Baskets, Family, And Friends and Sandra J. Metzler’s 1996 A promise kept: Basketry of the Pomo and the Elsie Allen basket collection.
Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, California is named for her.