Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thrift Store Art Finds: Authenticating Cryptic Northwest Coast Basketry

It's no big secret that I love Native American art. Throughout the last fews years, my interests have shifted from jewelry, to pottery, to paintings, and now my passion is basketry.  While purchasing historic and contemporary Native American basketry can be very expensive,  there are terrific pieces just waiting to be found in your local thrift store.  Since I seem to be a magnet for excellent thrift store finds, I have decided to periodically blog about them and share the information that I learn from the experts!

In the last few months, I have been a frequenter of thrift stores along the I-5 corridor in Washington State.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in a store in the Skagit Valley.  There amidst baskets of all types were three terrific baskets (one, which I think might be Cherokee, but goes unauthenticated as of yet, one from South America, or so I believe from the design and the materials employed, and one from the Northwest Coast).  When I first set eyes on the pictured basket, the plaiting and the twining on the piece led me to think that its origin was Makah.  The material appeared to be bear grass combined with cedar, which looked faded in color.

After forwarding photographs to a curator in British Columbia, I was able to learn that it is indeed Northwest Coast.  To her, it appears to be woven from bear grass and some kind of raffia--not cedar.  She also said that the base suggested Salish basketry, but that the plaiting (the square center weave as seen in the images) and twining (the weaving surrounding the plaiting) on the base led her to believe it was Makah style.  While the basket seemed somewhat hard to place, she said that it was likely made by either a Makah or a Quileute weaver.  My guess is that it could be early to mid-20th Century, but that goes uncorraborated. Regardless, it is a beautiful, compelling and decorative basket!

Did you know that both the Burke Museum in Seattle and the University of British Columbia have ethnology collections available for online viewing?  You can search by style of basket, tribe and other criteria and can enlarge photos to help you see crucial details. Check them out!

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