October 25, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Woven Identities – Basketry Art from the Collections

“… the oldest basket dates to 1200 A.D.…”

By Tom Maguire

Culture Vulture

Tom Maguire is a musician, arts supporter and a guy who travels the Southwest in a 13’ Scamp trailer, because he couldn’t figure out how the tent poles went together.

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On Sunday, November 20, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture opens a major exhibition of North American Indian baskets for the first time in over 30 years.

All objects tell a story, if you know the right questions to ask. At the time the baskets in this exhibition were collected, little or no information was recorded; the weaver’s names are largely unknown. Nonetheless, each basket has an identity, a woven identity. The identity of each basket – where it was made; when it was made; who made it; who it was made for; why it was made – is revealed by “reading” its individual characteristics.

To read a basket, five principal traits must be taken into account: material, construction, form and design and utility. Woven Identities is divided into five sections representing these essential and diagnostic Native American basketry traits. If you ever wanted to learn the language of baskets, begin your journey with this exhibition.

On exhibit are baskets woven by artists representing 60 cultural groups, today referred to as tribes, bands or pueblos. The weavers’ ancestral lands are in six cultural areas of Western North America: The Southwest, Great Basin, Plateau, California, the Northwest Coast and the Arctic.
Baskets can be functional. Even the improbable task of cooking was done in baskets—heated stones were added to food and liquid contents in meal preparation. Burden baskets were for carrying water and clams. Yet, function does not trump beauty.

Basket-making techniques are inherently attractive. Among the baskets on view are examples of false embroidery, cross weave, plaiting and coiling. Materials like wrapped twine, corn husk, roots, rhizomes, stems, branches, leaves, grass and cedar bark add their own good looks.
Of the 241 baskets in the exhibition, only 45 have been attributed to individual artists. Woven Identities honors those weavers and the many others whose names we do not yet know.

The exhibition runs through May 1, 2014.

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