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Current Exhibitions

Woven Identities

November 20, 2011 through February 24, 2014

For the first time in over 30 years, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture opens a major exhibition of North American Indian baskets on Sunday, November 20, 2011. The exhibition runs through February 23, 2014.

All objects tell a story, if you know the right questions to ask. At the time the baskets in this exhibition were collected little to 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—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 culture areas of Western North America: The Southwest, Great Basin, Plateau, California, the Northwest Coast, and the Arctic.

Baskets can be functional. Burden baskets were for carrying. The improbable task of cooking was done in baskets—heated stones were added to food and liquid contents in meal preparation. Water was carried and clams collected in others. Baskets also served as hats (especially, but not exclusively, to the tourist trade).

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.

Detail of Bowl
Bowl, c. 1890 Ntlakapamuk, artist unknown Construction: coiling, imbrication, slat bottom                       Foundation: cedar root Weaving elements: split cedar-root strand, cherry bark, phragmites                                                  Honorable Daniel H. McMillan Collection, 14401

Detail of Tray
Tray, c. 1890 Cahuilla, artist unknown   Construction: coiling Foundation: deergrass bundle Weaving elements: sumac shoots, juncus stalk Gift of Rosemary Ames, 25026  

Miniature Carrying Basket
CYLINDER, c. 1900 Tlingit Artist known as Mary Gift of Alice G. Brock, 1901 CONSTRUCTION: plain and three-strand twining, false embroidery FOUNDATION: spruce root WEAVING ELEMENTS: spruce root, phragmites; with dye

Tray, c. 1920 Akimel O’odham, c. 1920  Construction: coiling Foundation: cattail bundle Weaving elements: willow, devil’s claw seedpod Museum collection, 36720