Pacific Northwest Baskets

Pacific Northwest Baskets - This area was home to one of the most remarkable native cultures in the world. The Pacific Northwest native culture lived along hundreds of miles of rugged coastline, stretching from the mouth of the Columbia River through present-day Washington state and British Columbia and into western Alaska. Tribes such as the Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Haida, Nootka, and Salish inhabited a world of almost overwhelming abundance, dominated by the salmon run and surrounded by tremendous old-growth forests. The area enjoys moderate temperatures year-round and a rainfall of 80 to 200 inches per year, all of which supports a wide range of plants and animals. The forests surrounding the coast were full of huge Douglas fir, redwood, cedar and other evergreens providing raw material for a wide range of utilitarian objects including plank homes, dugout sea canoes, carved storage chests, baskets and even clothing woven from bark.

Info Snippet: Did you know that… some of the dugout sea canoes of the Pacific Northwest Natives were more than 50 feet long!!!

The natives of the Pacific Northwest did not depend upon agriculture but rather made their living from the waters of the region. Salmon, halibut, cod, trout and other fish as well as sea otters, whales, seals and porpoises were so abundant a that a few months of summer hunting and fishing supplied enough food for the entire year. This allowed them the time to develop trading with other tribes and with whites. They were also able to organize complex secret societies, practice rituals of initiation and develop a body of ceremonial art unrivaled by any other North American Indian culture. Thus, the massive totem poles, fantastic ceremonial masks, shamans' rattles, highly decorated bowls, ladles and other wood carvings as well as extremely high quality baskets were produced.

Pacific Northwest baskets were made primarily from split strips of spruce root and cedar bark. Like the Aleuts, Pacific Northwest baskets, particularly those of the Tlingit, were often decorated with false embroidery. The Haida and Tlingit were both prolific basket makers who created baskets with similar designs of bands or patterns of triangles, crosses, diamond or zigzag lines often in bold red and black, but the Haida did not employ false embroidery.

The most common form of Pacific Northwest baskets was a simple open cylinder made in a variety of sizes and used for gathering and storing berries and other foods.

Many tribes of the region made basketry hats. Some of these were rain hats, woven so tightly that they shed water. During the rainy season, they wore loose-fitting waterproof capes woven of cedar barks and hats made from spruce roots. The Tlingit, Haida, and Kwakiutl also made wide-brimmed ceremonial hats, decorated with painted clan markings and worn as status symbols. Woven rattle-lid baskets were also unique to the Northwest. These small, round storage containers had hollow-centered lids that held pebbles, lead shot or other loose objects that rattled whenever the baskets were moved or opened.

Indians of the southern Puget Sound region, such as the Quinault and Skokomish, specialized in soft, collapsible baskets, which they used to gather clams, berries, etc. Their gathering baskets were twined from spruce root, and a number of spruce root loops often were woven loosely around the rum. Across the Cascade Mountains to the west (in present day Washington and Oregon) plateau tribes such as the Cayuse, Wasco and Nez Perce also wove flat wallets that they used as saddlebags. Plateau basket makers decorated each side of the bag with a different geometric or floral design.

Some links describing the history and culture of the Northwest:

Baskets of the Northwest People

Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center – Tlingit Baskets

Return from Pacific Northwest Baskets to Native American Indian Baskets

Return to Home