When Tina Fung Holder goes for a walk, there’s always a chance some part of nature will come home with her. Once inside her apartment, dried sweetgrass is braided into cordage. Red osier dogwood is bent into a frame, and soon the most malleable parts of nature take new shape…and find new purpose.
Tina explains, “As I look around, like, anything that bends to me, that’s going to end up in some kind of basketry thing, you know?” Tina is a lot like her material…flexible…and open to new possibilities.
Tina was born in what was then British Guiana, a British colony in South America. She was one of the youngest in a large family, and taught herself how to sew her doll’s clothes and to make fish scale necklaces to sell to tourists. By 1969 Guyana had declared its independence, and most of Tina’s siblings had moved to America or England. Tina landed in Chicago living with a sister. Soon she was working at the Field Museum, doing repairs on artifacts and putting on exhibits for the public.
It was there that Tina’s openness led her to a new purpose, working with children. She says, “That’s when I got a really understand… that ability I have to communicate with kids.” Tina says adults can be quick to close off possibilities. She explains, “All I’m hearing is, ‘Oh, this is hard. I didn’t know it was so hard. I was never artistic.’” Tina says children are like her weaving material… malleable. “You throw it at them; they don’t know that it is a hard thing. They do it. They follow you,” she says.
Tina is still shaping malleable things: baskets and children. “The satisfaction for me, is to see delight on their face. This was something I have in me to give to the next generations, you know? And, that’s how the whole thing started.”