The next time you visit Yosemite, you should make the effort to meet Julia Parker, a living legend. Sitting in the same spot she has occupied for the past four decades, just behind the museum, you’ll find Julia, patiently weaving her one-of-a-kind, treasured baskets. She is a fixture for park visitors and many people visit Yosemite just to meet her.
Julia Parker had an inauspicious beginning. Orphaned at a young age, a member of the Coastal Miwok and Kashia Pomo tribes and the oldest of five children, Julia was sent to an Indian boarding school along with her brothers and sisters.
After she was old enough to strike out on her own, Julia took a job at Yosemite doing laundry for the Curry Company. While working in Yosemite, Julia lived in the park’s Indian village. It was here Julia met and married Ralph Parker, a Mono Lake Paiute, a tribe with deep ties to the Yosemite valley.
Ralph’s mother was Lucy Telles, a well-known basket weaver. It was here that Julia found her calling. Studying under Telles, Julia learned the craft and traditions of basket weaving. When Telles passed away, Julia took up the torch, demonstrating basket weaving in the same spot Telles once did, behind the Yosemite Indian Museum. Today, Julia is the both the oldest and longest-running park employee.
Julia’s craft dates back generations and she still weaves baskets in the traditional manner. Following a centuries old tradition, Julia collects the natural materials and grasses required to create the basket. After the substance of the basket has been gathered, Julia treats the raw natural material so it’s suitable for weaving.
Weaving from memory, Julia works without a pattern, crafting a basket based entirely on the pattern she has designed in her head. The baskets are complicated and it can take quite a long time to complete each masterpiece, anywhere from several months to an entire year. Julia’s work is well known and highly treasured. Not only has her work been displayed in museums, one of her baskets also resides in Elizabeth II’s private collection.
In addition to her weaving, Julia serves as an ambassador for the native peoples of the Yosemite Valley. Julia answers curious visitors’ questions, demonstrates traditional toys and games to capricious children, and relates traditional methods of food preparation and traditions.
Along with her hand work, Julia has created another legacy. By passing her craft and traditional skills on to her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter, Julia has established a basket weaving dynasty. When Julia initially began learning this traditional craft, it was in part precipitated by her fear that the traditional ways would dies out with Telles’ generation of weavers. By preserving this traditional skill and educating future generations, Julia has ensured that it will survive for many years to come.