Native American Indian Baskets - A Salute to Basket Weaving

Native American Indian Baskets...

Want pride of ownership and appreciation of beauty?
Want a basket to hold a gift?
Want something that will increase in value?
Want a piece of living history?

A Native American handcrafted basket is a hallmark of these wonderful craftsmen and a salute to the art of basket weaving.

The basket weaving art form is one of the oldest known crafts - archaeologists have identified some artifacts being close to 8000 years old.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Basket making preceded pottery making, so baskets that were used for cooking were lined with clay, and water vessels were covered with pine pitch.

"All work...", you remember this little saying, right? Most of the earlier forms of basket weaving were utilitarian, used for carrying water, gathering, harvesting, storage, cooking and storing food. They were lightweight, portable and sturdy!

A Brief History of Native American Indian Baskets

Info Snippet: Did you know that… some anthropologists have suggested that basketry may have come to the “New World” with the first humans who crossed the Arctic bridge from the Siberian peninsula.

The tradition behind the crafting of Native American Indian Baskets is not only ancient and widespread, but also extraordinarily rich. Basic techniques made it accessible to many artisans and allowed Native Americans to achieve and maintain an impressive early standard of quality in the craft. Native American Indians are generally acknowledged to have produced the most varied, technically advanced and aesthetically significant baskets of any civilization in history. The handcrafted products of Alaska’s Aleut, California’s Pomo, Nevada’s Washo and Louisiana’s Chitimacha are unparalleled and must be considered among the great accomplishments of American craftsmanship and design.

Basket making is one of the most ancient of human crafts. It is also the most basic of all crafts in its methods and materials. It is a local art, based on materials found in an area and dyes from plants found in an area, not dependent on foreign or specially processed materials of any kind.

Native American Art – Basketry has history, pictures of beautiful baskets and links…well worth the look!

Once basket-making techniques and traditions were in place, they changed very little over time, especially in the centuries before contact with Europeans that consequently totally disrupted the Native societies. Some traditions underscoring Native American Indian baskets can be traced in a direct and continuous lineage over hundreds or even thousands of years. Well-preserved Anasazi baskets from the Southwest, for example, made between the birth of Christ and about A.D. 700 are hard to distinguish from Pima baskets made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Baskets were especially important to agricultural societies, whose settled way of life allowed the development of complex religions, rituals, and arts. Basket-making and agriculture progressed together…Native American craftspeople developed practical basket forms to fit the varied tasks of farming (sowing, watering, harvesting, winnowing, grinding, missing and storing seeds and crops).

Although each tribe had its own distinctive style and materials used, when many tribes were forced to live together on the same land, there had been some "crossover" in techniques and materials used for basket weaving. BUT, many tribes have stayed with their unique styles.

With so many types of plant materials used, so many environments affecting what grew where and how baskets were used, it's no wonder that there are alot of differences when looking at the weaving techniques, shapes and patterns.

...Please! Read on!

... Read about the Aleut Basket Making Tradition
... Read about the Pacific Northwest Coast Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the California and Great Basin Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Southwest Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Southeast Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Northeast Basket Making Tradition

There are four basic basket weaving techniques used in making Native American Indian baskets: coiling, plaiting, wicker and twining.

  • Coiling, using grasses and rushes, is very close to sewing - it begins at the center bottom of the basket and builds upon itself by spiralling, with each level attached to the one below it. The color variations come from the type of plant being used as the sewing strand.

  • Plaiting (using materials that are wide and ribbon-like), wicker (using reed, ash, cane, oak and willow) and twining (using materials from roots and tree bark) all interlace horizontal elements and vertical elements. Each technique brings to the basket unique subtleties in the form, design and color. A basket can include one of these techniques or up to all four using the same or different plant materials.

Info Snippet: Did you know... The Ojibwa Strawberry Basket held a piece of an infant's umbilical cord along with other things of special meaning so the ancestors will recognize them when the arrive in the Spirit World.

NativeTech has an interesting section on the "World of the Indigenous Basketmakers".

Most of the collectible older Native American Indian baskets today were made between 1880-1930. Prior to that, most were utilitarian and used until they fell apart. Some tribes included baskets in cremation ceremonies.

Info Snippet: Did you know... An article written for the Placer Herald by a San Franciscan in 1891 remarks on the birth of the new craze - collecting Native American baskets, calling it "the latest fad among artistic people." Certainly this fad (which continues to this day) posed a unique, if not puzzling, circumstance for the weavers who were amused by these people who paid good money for the old, often used baskets while overlooking the newer pieces.

Regional Basket Materials:

  • Aleuts-used a type of ryegrass that grew wild throughout the islands

  • Northeast Indian-pounded ash splints or braided sweetgrass

  • Cherokee and other Southeast Indian-bundled pine needles or rivercane wicker

  • Southwest and California Indians-tightly coiled sumac, yucca, or willow wood

  • Northwest Coast Indians-cedar bark, swamp grass, and spruce root


Characteristics of a few Native American Indian baskets:

  • Navajo Baskets with the red, white and black colors typically have a "pathway" which leads out to the edge where the rim closes. Navajo Wedding Baskets are popular and thought to bring good luck to a home.

  • Apache Baskets - this tribe was nomadic, so most of their pieces are called "Burden Baskets", vessels to help in transporting berries, roots and firewood.

  • Hopi Baskets are remarkable in their use of deep colors and complicated designs. These baskets are hard to find because most are used in rituals and not for resale.

  • Pima/Papago Baskets are elegant and the workmanship is highly regarded. The Papago or Tohono O'odham people of Southern Arizona produce the most baskets of any tribe today.

  • The Haida tribe of the northwest coast are known for the hats they fashion - flaring rims and elaborate woven patterns.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Women of the Panamint tribe of interior California, considered by some to have been the most skilled basketry weavers in North America, carried elaborate patterning a step further in the 1930's by creating vivid pictorial baskets of pink, yellow, black and red featuring birds, trees, squirrels, butterflies and more. These baskets today usually sell in the four figures and are highly prized by collectors!!!

Hand-woven baskets are increasingly hard to find. Why??? There are alot of reasons...economics, fewer Native Americans willing to invest their time to learn, sparcer traditional materials available (changing landscapes, pesticides, etc.), the actual time to gather the materials to weave the basket, fewer artisans knowing which plants to use for materials, fewer artisans knowing how to prepare dyes, etc.

So, when pricing Native American Indian baskets, remember the time involved to gather natural materials and dying with natural vegetable dyes BEFORE the actual weaving can begin. Put that together with a drop in the number of weavers and you have fewer goods for more dollars!

Although Native American Indian baskets may not hold the same mystique or marketability as jewelery or clothing, these amazingly well-crafted items are just beautiful in their artistry. Today's few artisans are perfecting traditional forms and weaving in (pardon the pun) new decorative techniques.

Just 2 more Basket Snippets...

Info Snippet: Did you know... In 1920, a Yokuts coiled basket gambling tray sold for $45,000 (MorningStar Gallery).

Info Snippet: Did you know... Every basket - if new, not so new, or old - is a unique, handmade piece of Native American history (past, present and future).

If Native American Indian baskets are an art form you're interest in for collecting or either buying for yourself or giving as an Indian gift, become familiar with it. Visit museums to study the various basket weaving forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American weavers. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have for sale, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, anything being marketed as genuine Native American Indian baskets must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their basket weaving art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Native American Arts has free e-books covering the subjects of Collecting and Fraudulence that are excellent!

... Read about the Aleut Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Pacific Northwest Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the California and Great Basin Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Southwest Basket Making Tradition

... Read about the Southeast Basket Making Tradition

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