Basketry Treasured at the Arizona State Museum
The Craft of Basketry
Basketry is among the oldest human crafts on earth. Both utilitarian and artistic, baskets served as transport, storage, and ceremonial vessels as well as decorative objects. Basketry is a technology that cannot be mechanized with the same results. This skill continues to be taught and developed in indigenous communities.
Almost every American Indian tribe who inhabited the Southwest has produced intricate woven baskets, and many continue to do so. A few of these artifacts, such as Basketmaker sandals, have lasted hundreds, even thousands of years. The baskets have intrinsic value but they also provide insight to the daily lives of ancient cultures. The Arizona State Museum writes: “Weavings can tell us a lot about what kinds of food the people gathered, stored and ate; where they gathered resources; what they wore; how homes were furnished; how they expressed themselves creatively and spiritually; and many other details of their lives. Deciphering the details of technology, material choice, and design on a basket can provide tremendous information about its maker.”
Basketry Treasured Exhibition
Arizona State Museum (ASM) at the University of Arizona houses some of world’s most significant collections of artifacts representing indigenous cultures of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Twenty thousand pieces from the basketry collection were collectively named an American Treasure in 2000.
The Basketry Treasured exhibition, running from April 28, 2012 to June 1, 2013, honors the state’s centennial by celebrating a variety of North American basketry traditions. Curators have selected 500 remarkable pieces out of 25,000 specimens to display. The exhibition is drawn from the spectrum of woven materials. On display are baskets, cradleboards, sandals, mats, cordage, and preserved fibers representing every indigenous basket-making group in North America from 6,000 years ago to the present.
Baskets, sandals, and other fiber arts made by the prehistoric cultures of Basketmaker (including the Anasazi), Hohokam, Mogollon, ancestral Pueblo, including the Salado and Sinagua, are displayed in the exhibition hall. Many of these tribes practiced a combination of semi-nomadic hunting and gathering and floodplain agriculture or dry farming for sustenance.
The collection's oldest objects are hundreds of ancient Basketmaker (ca. 1000 B.C.E.–850 C.E.) sandals made by a combination of plain weave and alternate pair twining of finely spun yucca fiber cordage. The raised, sometimes colored, designs on the soles of these sandals, in addition to being an expression of the makers' artistic sensibilities, may also have served to uniquely identify sandals and their weavers.
Pieces from modern cultures including the Akimel O’odham (Pima); Western, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, and Mescalero Apaches; Chemehuevi; Cocopah; Havasupai; Hopi; Hualapai; Navajo; Pascua Yaqui; Pueblo; Quechan; Southern Paiute; Tohono O’odham; Yavapai; and Zuni show the recent history and the modern expressions of the craft.
Weavers use a number of native fibers in weaving techniques to create distinctive styles and patterns. Yucca leaf, cottonwood, rabbitbush, beargrass, and other fibers provide basketweaving cordage that is plaited, twined, wickered, or coiled. Open the Basketry Treasured Gallery Guide (PDF) to explore techniques, materials, contemporary weavers, and more.
The museum’s largest example is a stunning Yavapai or Western Apache coiled olla [a container with a belly wider than the neck often used for cooking or storing food or water] that is almost 3.5 feet tall. It probably was made just after 1900 by an anonymous but extremely talented weaver who may have lived at San Carlos, Arizona. Discover more about the Basketry Treasured exhibition.
Download the Basketry Treasured Gallery Guide.
Other Collections at the Arizona State Museum
Arizona State Museum holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southwestern pottery in the world. Over 20,000 vessels representing 2,000 years of the craft are accessible to the public through a climate-controlled display wall, a visible storage vault, and a dedicated exhibition gallery. Arizona State Museum conservator and professor Nancy Odegaard calls it the most complete Southwest collection anywhere.