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Jack Ofield has had a long and distinguished career as an award-winning animator, film producer-director, screenwriter and artist.  His career began at the National Film Board of Canada, where he wrote and directed documentaries. He has been a writer-director for ABC and PBS and has produced hundreds of programs and series for network television and cultural organizations. Winner of many awards, he is a member of the Directors Guild of America, a Directing Fellow of the American Film Institute, and Emeritus Professor of Film and Filmmaker in Residence at San Diego State University. Many of his film projects were created and produced with his long-time collaborator and wife, writer/producer Helen-Maria Erawan.

In the early 1970s, Jack and Helen were preparing work on a documentary film entitled “INHERITANCE.” This was a PBS program focusing on vanishing American crafts and involved filming and interviewing artisan-practitioners. Writing about the experience of his encounter with the last Taghkanic basket maker, Elizabeth Proper, Ofield writes:

“Elizabeth Proper lived all of her life in the Taconic Hills of eastern New York State. She harvested her own white oak to make her baskets. She was in her ‘forties when I filmed her in 1972 and she had a six-year-old daughter. There had been a community of basket makers in the region, but she was the only one left.”

 “We lived near Hudson, NY and one day I saw these beautiful split white oak baskets in a store window and learned who made them. Elizabeth Proper lived nearby. I called upon her four or five times to ask about filming, but she said no through a crack in the door. Finally, she said yes, ‘just to get rid of you.”

Happily, Elizabeth Proper is no longer the last Taghkanic Basket maker, as her daughter, Maryann Barto, also a basket weaver, credits her mom for imparting her skill, as well as inspiring her to write her own forthcoming memoir about growing up. Her family’s stories and basketmaking are invaluable living history, continuing an age-old tradition for future generations to learn and enjoy. Signed Elizabeth Proper baskets are still highly prized today.

The following series of photographs, taken on what appears to be a blistering hot summer day, document the 1971 shoot of Elizabeth Proper's on-camera interviews by Jack Ofield as she prepares materials and weaves her baskets. The photos were mostly taken by Helen and generously donated to the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society in September 2019. The donation was a result of the RJHS exhibition “The Hidden History of the Roe Jan Region,” in which Taghkanic Baskets, and the work of Elizabeth Proper, were featured. The exhibit also featured  Jack and Helen’s seven-minute section of “Inheritance" entitled “Basketmaker,” so visitors could see Elizabeth at work. To get a sense of the exhibit, see the "Annual Exhibition" page, and scroll down to the pdf flipbook display. We are indebted to Jack and Helen for this donation and for their support of the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society.

See Jack & Helen Ofield's 1972 short about Liz Proper: "Basketmaker" (7 minutes) on YouTube below

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