New Exhibit at Sharpsteen Museum Opens This Season

basketsPublished November 10, 2015

Featuring Native American basketry of the West from Alaska to Arizona, this exhibit is expecting to draw in a good number of community members

CALISTOGA, CALIFORNIA—Before hitting the official holiday season, be sure to visit Sharpsteen Museum to browse the new exhibit featuring Native American basketry from out West, ranging from Alaska to Arizona. This exhibit is showcased on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 20.

Imagine a Pomo woman thousands of years ago carefully gathering vines, honeysuckle and wisteria to create her baskets: a Coastal Miwok using spruce root, cedar bark, and swampgrass. Although now considered an art form, basket making in ancient times was created out of necessity and was an important part of the struggle to survive.

The oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old, earlier than established discoveries of pottery. Basket making in the Old World dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and was practiced by virtually all Native American tribes, many of which continue to this day, a tradition taught by elders to succeeding generations.

Smaller baskets were created for gathering fruits, nuts, and grains, which was the main diet of many tribes. Others were larger or with a more distinct shape depending on the need, such as creel baskets used for collecting fish. Nomadic tribes, needing to move clothing and blankets from camp to camp for example, made baskets with a more pliable bottom enabling the carrier to balance the basket on his or her head for easy transport.

The Pomo Indians of Central California were widely recognized as the finest basket makers in the world. Their use of plain, diagonal or lattice twining used separately in combination with one another was an almost unparalleled artistic choice. They had exceptional skills in coiled baskets and their use of feathers and shells added to their incredible beauty. Two feathered baskets are featured in this collection.

Their neighbors, the Coastal Miwok, sadly have very few remaining examples of their basketry work. The missions recruited or enslaved the Indians early after their settlement and taught them to reject their native ways. Many died of disease. The most extensive collection of Coastal Miwok baskets was taken back to Russia after Fort Ross was abandoned in the 1830s and is now housed in a museum in St. Petersburg. The Lake Miwok and Yosemite Miwok, however, fared better. There will be a Yosemite Miwok basket in this exhibit.

Baskets dating to the 1800s belonging to Dan Brown of Petaluma include those of the Pomo, Miwok, Hupa, Yurok, Karuk, and Klamath tribes of Northern California. From the coastal Olympic Peninsula of Washington baskets of the Makah and Quinault tribes to the Paiute and Washoe tribes of the eastern Sierra’s and Nevada, and to the Pima tribe of Arizona just to name a few, there will be plenty of baskets on display.

Visit the museum for the preview of this incredible collection from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. Brown will be in attendance to answer any questions you may have. This preview is open to the public


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