Published on May 10, 2012 by Amy
Terrol Dew Johnson (born 1973) is a contemporary Tohono O’odham basketweaver and health advocate, promoting traditional foods to prevent diabetes.
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Terrol Dew Johnson is Tohono O’dham from Sells, Arizona. Johnson began weaving at the age of ten. “It was the only thing I was good at,” the artist has been quoted as saying, “I’ve always been touchy-feely and good with my hands –I could do this with my hands, and it was fun!” His parents actively encouraged his interest in basketry, particularly his mother, Betty Ann Pancho.
He uses plant materials traditional to his tribe in his work but in experimental in his weaves and techniques. One of his pieces is, Quilt Basket: a virtuoso display of different weaving techniques, suspended from a single branch. The materials he uses include bear grass, yucca, devil’s claw, and gourds. He is most known for his gourd baskets, in which pieces of the gourd are cut away and the negative space is filled with finely woven bear grass.
Johnson has won major top awards at Santa Fe Indian Market, O’odham Tash (the Tohono O’odham annual festival held in February), the Heard Museum Indian Market, and the Southwest Museum’s Indian Art Fair.
Tohono O’odham Community Action
With his business partner Tristan Reader, Terrol Johnson founded Tohono O’odham Community Action or TOCA in 1996. The nonprofit community development organization operates a basketry cooperative and as well as farming and selling native foods. The Tohono O’odham tribe has the highest rate of adult-onset diabetes of any ethnic group in the world. TOCA’s Tohono O’odham Community Food System provided traditional desert foods to tribal members as a way of combating the disease and promoting health and sustainability. Foods provided by TOCA include tepary beans, mesquite beans, cholla (cactus) buds, chia seeds, squashes, acorns, and saguaro cactus fruit and syrup.
TOCA has received widespread recognition. For his efforts with TOCA, Johnson was named one of the top 10 community leaders in 1999 by the Do Something organization. The US President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities gave TOCA the Coming Up Taller Award in 2001. In 2002 both Johnson and Reader won the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award.
“The Walk Home”
For two years, Terrol Dew Johnson has been on a “journey of the heart,” a 3000 mile walk across the country with his teenage relatives. Stopping at native communities to discuss health and culture, “The Walk Home” has celebrated traditional native foods and health. “The Walk Home” arrived home on March 20, 2010.