Art of the Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Indians

By Dorothy Downs | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 8 Basketry

Archaeological evidence indicates that in prehistoric times and in the Historic period in the Southeast, basketry included the making of both flat mats and shaped baskets that can be used for gathering and in preparing food, for transporting and storing items, and for interring the dead. The primary construction technique was "interlacement, often in complex patterns based on twill structures," in which split cane and bark strips were used ( Drooker 1992, 83). There is no prehistoric evidence of the use of coiling techniques east of the Mississippi.

Seminole basket makers initially constructed their baskets of split cane, which was readily available in northern Florida. They continued to rely on whatever material was to be found in their environment, turning to palmetto stems as they moved farther south in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At some unknown time during that period, they also learned to coil sweet grass and pine needles to make baskets.

Early accounts refer to Seminole mats and baskets. Recalling a visit to a Seminole town in 1774, William Bartram wrote in his Travels that he was "seated on mats, curiously woven, of split cane dyed various colors. Here being seated or reclining ourselves, after smoaking tobacco, baskets of the choicest fruits were brought and set before us" ( Bartram 1955, 251). Bartram's mention of mats that had been dyed in various colors is particularly intriguing, because there are no surviving Seminole samples of basket-weaving material that show any evidence of having been dyed. But the use of dyes in Southeastern basket weaving was confirmed by traveler James Adair in his History of the American Indians ( 1775). Commenting on the use of dyed strips of split cane in the clothing baskets made by the Cherokees, Adair remarked that they "divide large swamp


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Art of the Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Indians


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