The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Legacy

The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Legacy

The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Legacy

The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Legacy


George Wharton James once commented that the basket to the Indian "meant a work of art, in which hope, aspiration, desire, love, religion, poetry, national pride, mythology, were all more or less interwoven." The first major study of the subject since 1904, this book presents essays written by those intimately familiar with the basket makers and basketry of North America. Illustrated with approximately 80 black-and-white photographs--many of which are historical records of basketry--Native American Basketry uses archaeological, ethnographic, historical and contemporary information in discussing the changes in native basketry from prehistoric times to the present.


Native American basketry continues to fuel the curiosity and capture the admiration of scholars, collectors, and the general public. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in both the artistic value and ethnological quality of the basketry of the native peoples of North America. Older collections of prehistoric, historic, and contemporary basketry, scattered throughout North America and Europe, have been inventoried, classified, and analyzed. A recent survey by the general editor of smaller, less-known historical societies and museums has identified countless collections of Native American basketry which have yet to be studied. Much work has been accomplished; much more research remains to be done.

The chapters in this volume explore and discuss the multifaceted role basketry has played in the material and nonmaterial culture of these tribes of North America. Given the wide range of habitats and the social and cultural diversity of the basket making tribes, one naturally expects to find differences in the technology, style, design, and use of their basketry. What one perhaps would not expect to discover are the similar ways the basket makers in these tribes adapted basketry after prolonged contact with non-Indian peoples.

From the earliest days of contact throughout North America, explorers and settlers alike recorded their admiration for and desire to obtain pieces of basketry. While some were driven by a passion to collect, others sought baskets for their practical uses. Native American basketry became important to many pioneer families as they struggled to carve homesteads out of the wilderness of North America. These families, living on the remote frontier, frequently exchanged European goods for baskets, mats, and caps. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, individuals and families of basket makers made their way from one white settlement to another peddling their basket wares.

The growth of tourism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries perhaps had the greatest impact on Native American basketry.

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