When it is difficult to single out any one artistic skill of an individual for recognition, that person is often referred to simply as a "tradition bearer." Loren Bommelyn is such a person for the Tolowa people. The Tolowa are northern California Native Americans who numbered around 2,400 prior to European contact but by 1910 had dwindled to 121 people in the Smith River and Crescent Bay region. Bommelyn has preserved, practiced and promoted Tolowa cultural traditions including its language, native regalia, ceremonial dances and songs, and basketmaking. Bommelyn has played a significant role in the Tolowa community, according to Brian Bibby, editor of The Fine Art of California Indian Basketry. "As a performer, Loren is a singer of traditional Tolowa songs whose voice possesses a power and quality that is held in the highest regard," he said. "As a ceremonialist, Loren has taken on the responsibility of a dance maker, raising the level of participation in traditional ceremonies dramatically. He is by far the largest single maker and contributor of men's and women's dance regalia in the Tolowa community. As a basketmaker, he has a reputation throughout the northwestern part of the state as the supreme baby cradle maker. And as a speaker and teacher of the Tolowa language, he is today the single most knowledgeable individual of the indigenous language." In 1994, after several years of gathering materials and contributing his own financial resources, Bommelyn finished a Tolowa ceremonial house on his family property to host dances and tribal meetings. This was the site of the first complete Tolowa ceremony of genesis since 1925.
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