Basket maker Louise Francis was born in the Homalco community of Church House at the entrance to Bute Inlet. In 1911, when Louise was born, Church House was a relatively new community. The Homalco people had moved there only a decade or so earlier after the village of Mushkin, situated on the east coast of Sonora island, was destroyed by an infamous Bute wind.
Louise was part of a large family with several older sisters and a number of brothers. Little is known about her father, George Francis, but we do know that her mother, Mary Madeline (Wilson) was a talented basket maker. Three of Mary's baskets are in the collection of the Museum at Campbell River. At least one Louise's older sisters, Theresa (Leo)) is also known to have made baskets, though sadly no examples of her work have been located.
In 1931 Louise married a Klahoose man named Tommy Piel(le), the brother of basket makers Jeanne (Dominick) and Anne (Chapman). The couple settled in the Klahoose community of Squirrel Cove and had two children before Tommy was lost in a fishing accident. Louise remarried several times and had several other children. Her last marriage was to George Harry. Louise died in Campbell River in 1987. She was 75.
Louise Harry's work is innovative, distinctive and stylistically consistent. The following features are characteristic of her work.
1) On Louise's baskets the slats or sticks forming the basket bases are narrower than those forming the walls of her baskets. This feature is unusual. Other basket makers represented in the inventory tend to make their base slats wider than their wall slats.
2) The stitching at the ends of Louise's basket bases is arranged in clusters of 4 to 5 stitches with the first stitch in the cluster being the longest and the succeeding stitches gradually decreasing in length. (Insert thumbnail: Louise Harry bottom stitching).
1) Louise Harry is the only northern Coast Salish basket maker known to have worked with hemlock root as well as the more commonly used cedar and spruce roots. Two baskets in the Museum at Campbell River collection were purchased directly from Louise who specifically stated that she had made them of hemlock rather than cedar or spruce root. The hemlock root is whiter in colour than both the cedar and spruce and has a duller sheen.
2) All known examples of Louise's work employ only cherry bark in their decoration.
1) All of Louise's known designs are rendered in red (natural) or black (dyed) cherry bark. On all of the examples of her work included in this inventory the colour white or yellow is entirely absent from the applied designs. This is unusual for northern Coast Salish baskets.
2) Louise's designs are built up from three primary motifs: "V" elements, "X" elements, and triangles. (Insert thumbnails: mcr 0983; Judith Williams basket; Elsie Paul basket)
1) Other than on her split imbricated 'V' elements (see below), Louise used beading almost exclusively for her designs.
2) Several of Louise's baskets have large 'V' forms built up using split imbrication (insert thumbnail: RBCM photo 18324). This technique, in which the imbrication covers only half of a slat, is so far known only from Louise's work and may constitute a 'signature' of sorts.