In Memoriam: Terrol Dew Johnson (1973-2024)

“I started weaving contemporary baskets partly out of necessity. When I was 18, I didn’t have a car. When I would run out of material, I would look for other things to either weave with or incorporate—other plant material or sometimes metal and stones and bones and hair. All these things would go into my baskets. … But it’s a Tohono O’odham basket regardless. I’m the weaver. I’m Tohono O’odham. Still, I always try to incorporate a traditional element or material in every piece of non-traditional work I do—yucca, bear grass—just for my sake, to know that this is a basket. This is a Tohono O’odham basket; this is my basket.”

-Terrol Dew Johnson
“What a Basket Can Hold,” BorderLore, September 2020

With deep sadness, we say goodbye to Tohono O’odham master artist, basket weaver, creative visionary, farmer, and foodways activist, Terrol Dew Johnson, of Sells, Arizona, who passed in his sleep on May 8.

Terrol participated regularly in the annual folklife festival, Tucson Meet Yourself, demonstrating his work in the Tohono O’odham Him Dag:Ki folk arts pavilion. In 2017, Terrol was awarded a Southwest Folklife Alliance Master-Artist Apprentice Award to support his transfer of cultural knowledge and basket weaving to Edward Miguel, the grandson of one of Terrol’s first teachers.

Humble and generous, Terrol was highly regarded and celebrated for his vision and leadership. In 1996 he co-founded Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a grassroots community organization dedicated to creating positive programs based in the O’odham Himdag or “Way,” where he also served as president and CEO. In 1999, he was named one of America’s Top Ten Young Community Leaders by the Do Something Foundation Award. In 2002, Terrol received the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award. In 2010, Terrol walked 3000 miles from Maine to Arizona in The Walk Home: A Journey to Native Wellness, to bring awareness to the crisis of diabetes in Indigenous communities and highlight the ways in which reconnecting with cultural traditions can support wellness. 

Practiced in traditional O’odham basket weaving, Terrol also used traditional plant materials like bear grass, yucca, devil’s claw, and gourds in experimental and contemporary ways. His artwork won numerous awards including Award in Craft in 2022 from the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation. In 2023, his collaborative work with Aranda\Lasch was nominated for the Loewe Foundation’s Craft Award and was shown in the Noguchi Museum in New York with the other finalists. Terrol’s art resides in permanent national and international collections including the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay, the MOMA in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s NMAI, The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Denver Museum of Art, and the AZ State Museum.

Thank you, Terrol, for your vision and your action. Rest in peace and power.

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