Native American Basketry

By The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Native American Basketry

For millennia, Native Americans have created baskets using techniques passed down from generation to generation. While we may think of baskets as decorative in today’s context, they were an item of necessity in a time before plastic storage containers, metal pots and nylon backpacks. The variety of shapes and sizes addressed the need for storing, carrying, serving, drinking and protecting food items, liquids and personal objects – and attested to the importance of the basket in traditional Native American cultures.

Burden Basket (c. 1880) by unknown TlingitThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Baskets were expertly crafted, and aside from their utilitarian functions, they demonstrate remarkable designs encompassing a variety of techniques, materials, colors and patterns. This craft was passed down from mother to daughter and it is not uncommon for a well-crafted basket to contain over one hundred thousand stitches.

Coiled Basket (c. 1890) by unknown PimaThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

The baskets depicted in this display are from the Seton Hall University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (SHUMAA) collection. They represent a cross-section of designs from the Zuni, Pima and Pomo tribes from the western United States. Although there are four main techniques for making baskets, these on display are either coiled, twined, or a blend of both approaches. Coiling begins at the center of a basket and radiates outward in spirals. Each spiral is sewn to the one that precedes it. Twining is a technique in which one thread is woven over another to form a strong foundation of horizontals and verticals.

Coiled Basket (c. 1890) by unkonwn PimaThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

The materials used in basket making depended on the tribe’s geographic location and their traditions. Many Northeast Indians used sweet grass. The Southeastern tribes, often used pine needles and wicker, while the Northwest Indians used spruce root and cedar bark. Yucca and sumac were often used by the Southwest Indians. Anything pliable could be used in basket weaving as long as it was bendable and could form a shape.

Basket (c. 1880) by PomoThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

The Pomo are one of the most noted groups for their basketry and they use both coiling and twining techniques adeptly. This design on this basket is known as arrowhead-half.
The Pomo were known for making baskets woven so tightly they were naturally water proof. Beginning in the 1880's the tourist industry boomed and a demand for "native goods" invigorated production of goods for sale rather than use.

Twined Weave Construction Diagram (Unknown) by Silvia KorosThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Although there are four main techniques for making baskets, these on display are either coiled, twined, or a blend of both approaches. Coiling begins at the center of a basket and radiates outward in spirals. Each spiral is sewn to the one that precedes it. Twining is a technique in which one thread is woven over another to form a strong foundation of horizontals and verticals.

Basket (Unknown) by PomoThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Geometric motifs such as the striped water snake pattern were popular in Pomo baskets such as this coiled bowl. The Pomo are indigenous to California and lived in small groups which were linked by geography, lineage, cultural expression and marriage. However, they are not linked socially or politically as a unified group.

Basket (c. 1890)The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Burden baskets were used to carry loads such as food, firewood and personal belongings. Constructed in various sizes, they were worn over the shoulder, around the neck or at the hip.

Alice Elliot, A Media Generalist Production (1975) by Media General ProductionsThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Basket (Unknown) by ZuniThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

By the 20th century, the Zuni people were no longer creating baskets for regular use. Baskets were eventually replaced by ceramics which were modeled after traditional basket forms. This diagonal twined basket is typical of the kind that would have been used to hold water. However, the open weave and lack of pitch to render it waterproof would not lend itself to holding water.

Basket (c. 1900) by Akimel O'odham (Pima)The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Akimel O'odham (Pima) baskets were multi-purpose household items. Typically they included geometric designs such as the step pattern seen on this basket. Typically these baskets would be made of grasses, rushes, willow, cattails and/or devil’s claw.
Devil’s Claw is so durable that it will out-wear other strong fibers including willow. Cattails, the primary plant used in the basket's foundation, are twisted with the black strands of devil's claw to start the center of the basket.

Basket (Unknown) by PimaThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Baskets captivated nineteenth-century anthropologists and collectors around the world. The Akimel O'odham (also known as the Pima) made more and more of these baskets as increasing numbers of tourists, scientists, and collectors traveled by the new railroad lines to the southwestern United States. Thousands of baskets remain today in museums and private collections from the period of basket collecting that began in the 1880’s. The pattern shown on this basket is known as coyote track.

Basket (c. 1890) by PimaThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

This coiled tray basket was created by the Akimel O'odham (formerly Pima) people. It is made of grass in the pattern known as stepped zigzag. This type of basket would have been used for carrying or serving food. Now most baskets are created to satisfy the tourist trade, and collectors will display baskets as fine art, negating the basket’s intended utilitarian purpose.

Credits: Story

These baskets are but a small part of a vast collection of artifacts from the SHUMAA collection, founded by Seton Hall Professor Herbert Kraft (1927-2000), a leading archaeologist and authority on the Leni Lenape tribe which inhabited New Jersey, Delaware, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania at the time Europeans arrived in the Americas. For almost forty years, Kraft cultivated the collection with artifacts excavated from archaeological digs he conducted throughout the region. Kraft was also instrumental in securing donations of artifacts from noted collectors and archaeologists. The SHUMAA collection includes over 26,000 Native American, Asian and African art and artifacts.

This exhibit was brought to you by The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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