Native American Indian Baskets
Culturalpatina has a number of Native American Indian Baskets from a number of tribes to include, the Apache, California Mission, Karuk, Chemehuevi Polychrome, and Pima. All are in very good to excellent condition.
Basket making was one of the earliest skills developed since baskets were needed for carrying goods, for storage, for trapping and fishing, and for religious ceremonies. Unlike pottery, baskets do not survive for extended periods of time. Most that are available today were constructed in the last 120 years, particularly after native people in the Southwest began to make baskets with the idea of selling them and moved baskets into the category of artistic collectables. Those made between 1880 and 1930 tend to be the most valuable, particularly if they are in good condition, well-made, and have an interesting design, but these latter factors can make any basket desirable.
One can quickly summarize baskets by type and construction, but the strongest interest has been in understanding tribal variations since different tribes used different materials, different construction styles, different quality and particularly different decorations. As a result, the following offers some general comments on the first two issues and then seeks greater detail on tribal variation. Types Trays and bowls are the most common forms, but there are a few unusual types of baskets: Ollas ( prounced "oy-yuh" , a Spanish word meaning jar with a neck and mouth) This Olla shape was conducive to storing grain with less spillage.
Burden baskets are simply designed to ease the burden of a heavy load. Many hang over the head and rest on the person’s back. The conical shape conforms to a person’s back and evenly distributes the load’s weight. The Apache ones add tin cones that are noisy and seem effective in scaring away snakes. The second set of three pictured above includes two of the conical ones and an older one that narrows a bit at the top.
Plaques are flat and often are used for decoration. They are commonly made by the Hopi.
Cradle boards are another form of basket that is used to carry a child supported against a stiff board. The child is tightly wrapped against the board giving a sense of security and freeing the person carrying the child to do other things with her hands. Again, decoration became more important as they became collectibles.
Water jugs were covered with pitch so the basket would hold liquids. Carrying liquid in a coated basket makes the burden much lighter than what it would be if the liquid were carried in pottery.
There are a small number of basic methods for making baskets, but each option can be varied based on materials and factors like the thickness of the stitch or by varying over and under patterns.
The most common type of basket construction is coiling in which a larger substance called the warp is coiled in circles starting at the center. A thinner material called the weft is stitched around the coils to hold them in place and can add decoration. Sometimes, the thick material is actually a bundle of thin material like grass. The coil is spiraled outward and, unless the intent is a plaque, upward. This method offers more strength and more opportunity for decoration. Greater stability results from using a warp of multiple thick rods that are stitched together.
Another common process is called twining and involves placing larger material or rods from the center outward and tying these supports together. The thinner materials that are wrapped over and under the supports again provide decoration. The weaver can shift the direction or use three stands instead of two or pass over two rods instead of one to vary the appearance and make a design. Diagonal twining involves having the wefts go around two rods at a time but shifting which two on each row. In other words, on the first row, the weft would be wrapped around rods 1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc. On the next row, they would be wrapped around 2 and 3, then 4 and 5, etc. A decorative element can be wrapped around the outside wefts to create an impression that is called false embroidery.
Plaiting requires the use of flat strips that are woven over and under each other. Often, the strips are placed in a diagonal pattern. Again, it is common to add variations like over one and under two. A mixture of variations adds to the design. This style tends to be easier than the other two and creates stronger, more rigid baskets. Plaiting was also used to build traps, fences and the like. Wicker is similar to plaiting but uses round materials with one of the sets being thicker and adding stability to the material. Often the thicker material is less visible or completely covered by the thinner material.
Wicker is similar to plaiting but uses round materials with one of the sets being thicker and adding stability to the material. Often the thicker material is less visible or completely covered by the thinner material.
Preparing the materials for weaving often takes longer than the weaving itself. Once appropriate materials were located, they had to be cut, cleaned, and then split or peeled since the natural material tended to be too thick for the wefts. The weaver usually needs to use her or his teeth for the splitting and peeling. During weaving, the materials were often dampened so that the weave would get tighter as it dried.
The most valuable baskets are those made by the Apache and Yavapai. Both tribes traveled a lot probably making well-built baskets more important, but, in the latter part of the 1800s, the two groups were forced onto the same reservation in the desert near San Carlos. In this unpleasant harsh life, the women had a chance to share techniques although both groups maintained their own style. After they were allowed to return to reservations in their more traditional areas, both groups recognized that they could generate a modest income by selling their baskets and production increased.
Earlier Apache baskets were usually coiled and used three rods for the warp making these baskets very sturdy and stiff. By 1930, production of these baskets declined as children were forced into schools that did not teach basket making and older members of the tribe were pressured into other work. The basket making skills seemed to die out for a decade and were eventually replaced by making of simpler single coil ones. Burden baskets were often twined instead of coiled with twining particularly common for the Mescalero tribe.
Apache baskets tend to use contrasting colors and geometric or pictorial designs. The traditional ones are very sturdy [because of the three coils] and the external weft is usually willow with material from devils claw seed bags for the dark color. The willow tends to start as an off white but ages to a golden tan or light brown. A sun-burnt willow that is darker and reddish was sometimes used for decoration. Dark red yucca root was also used for design work in rare occasions. Those baskets that added an extra color are called polychrome.
Newer baskets sometimes were twined and used a greater variety of materials including cottonwood, berry bushes, and sumac as well as willow. Dyes became more common for adding color, but the basic color is lighter than in those that have aged.
Apache designs are less symmetrical and, at times, seemed cluttered. They frequently include figures (human, dog, deer, and snake). Weavers suggest that it is helpful to let the basket talk to them and tell them the design rather than planning it ahead of time. As a result, there is less consistency in weave as well as design but such variation can add interest. The use of devil’s claw has declined in modern Apache designs. (Source: Smoki museum)