Famous Person Datsolalee (Louisa Keyser)

Related Topics: Talents

Grade Level: 3rd/4th
Author: Rachelle Larson



Datsolalee was a very talented basket weaver. In her lifetime she made over 250 baskets. Many of these baskets are in museums all over the country. The pattern of each basket had to be planned very carefully. For even if one strip was out of place the pattern would be ruined. But Datsolalee's baskets were done with perfection and outstanding workmanship. This was miraculous considering that she was almost blind.

Datsolalee's real name is Louisa Keyser. Her Washoe Indian tribe in Nevada gave her the name Datsolalee which means "The Queen Of Washoe Indian Basketmakers." They gave her this name because they were very proud of her work and accomplishments.

Fame and recognition were two things that Datsolalee achieved in her lifetime. She was recognized by her Indian tribe and those societies that were non-native as well. Her pieces were very well made and highly prized as collectors items.

But this success was not easily or swiftly achieved. Datsolalee lived in a time when her tribe was losing everything they valued. They were being forced from their land, they were losing their power, and they felt hopeless standing against the government. Yet even in hard times Datsolalee remained optimistic. She was very proud of her craft and she did all she could to use it to her benefit.

During these hard times, Datsolalee worked as a maid and created baskets in her spare time. She worked for Amy and Abraham Cohn. They were the owners of The Cohn Emporium; which was a men's clothing store. Amy was fascinated by Indian culture, especially basketry. Under Amy's direction, the Cohn's obtained a large collection of Washoe baskets; as well as works from other tribes. Then, they sold these works to interested buyers. When they discovered there was money to be made they brought up all the available pieces and commissioned weavers to make more basket to sell.

Louisa was one of these weavers. She was encouraged to devote as much time and effort as possible into basket weaving. The Cohns were so impressed with her work that they offered her full patronage in return for the ownership of her baskets. Louisa and her husband, Charlie Keyser, were supported for more that 25 years by the Cohns.

Traditional, was not a word that anyone would use to describe Louisa's baskets. She single-handily changed the art of Washoe basket weaving. She changed and refined the stitching technique to create a new shape of basket called, degikup. Degikup was a larger basket which curved in towards the top. She also expanded the design to cover most of the basket surface. Then, she introduced a dye called, Redbud. This was used along with a black dye for decoration. Louisa was also influential in establishing the direction for the new curio style and the three coil method as well.

Her baskets were continually evolving into many forms and designs. Some say that these changes were made mainly to increase sales. Others say that her work can be describe as, "art for art's sake." However, many weavers imitated her work and through her innovations she changed the art of Washoe basket weaving forever.


Davis, A.P. and Selvidge M. J. (1995). Focus on Women. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

Porter, F.W. (1990). The Art Of Native American Basketry. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Turnbaugh, S.P. and Turnbaugh, W.A. (1986). Indian Baskets. West Chester, PN: Schiffer Publishing.


1. Students will be able to describe the talents of Datsolalee and the contributions she made to Washoe basketry.
2. Students will be able to identify their own personal talents.
3. Students will acquire knowledge about the process, difficulty, and effort involved in basketry.
4. Students will recognize the differences and similarities of their talents in relation to the other members of the class.


Time Allotment: Approximately one week or 5-6 class periods.

Resources Needed:
Guest speaker (*expert in basketry)
*To locate a expert in basketry contact a local craft store.


1. Think-Pair-Share. Individually, have students think of the various talents they possess. In pairs have students share the talents they have thought of. In large group have students contribute to a class list of all the many talents that people in the class have.

2. Venn Diagram. For this activity, students will work cooperatively with a partner. Students will use the Venn Diagram to visually represent the ways in which their personal talents are the same or different from each other.

3. Mini-Lecture. Using the class list and the student's Venn diagrams, talk about: individual talents, talents that students have in common, and talents that students do not have in common. Share that a woman named Datsolalee was very talented in the art of basket weaving. Using the background information above tell the story of her special talent and the contributions she made to Washoe basketry.

4. Guest Speaker. After reminding the students of Datsolalee's great talent invite an expert in the field of basketry to come in and demonstrate the art of basket weaving. This will allow the students to see first hand the difficulty and effort involved in weaving baskets. After this visit students will write a brief essay about the process, difficulty, and effort involved in basketry.

5. Poem Writing. Students will write a poem about Datsolalee. They will be assigned to include at least three facts about her life and her talents. Types of poetry to consider are: Haiku, Tanka, or Diamante. After poems are completed, students will share them in small groups.

6. Talent Show. The culminating event of this unit will be a talent show. Students will be invited to share their talents on this special day. They will be invited to perform, create displays, demonstrate, explain, or present information about their individual talents. There will also be a special area set up to display Datsolalee's talent. This area will include pictures, baskets, and information about her life. It will also include the poems previously written by the students. Parents, relatives, and friends should be invited to attend.

7. Learning Journal. Following this mini-unit each student will write an entry in their learning journal describing the talents of Datsolalee and the contributions she made to Washoe basketry.


1. Contributions to Think-Pair-Share and the group list will be assessed informally through observation.
2. Venn diagrams from each pair of students will be assessed.
3. Student essays will be assessed for understanding of the process, difficulty, and effort involved in basketry.
4. Student poems will be assessed for content and creativity.
5. Participation in the talent show will be assessed anecdotally.
6. Journal entries written about Datsolalee's talents and contributions to Washoe basketry will be assessed.

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