The Language of Native American Baskets The Weavers' Aesthetic The Weavers' Aesthetic
Introduction The Weavers' View Techniques, Tools & Workplaces The Weavers' Aesthetic Burden Baskets A Set of Values Basketmaking Associations
Starts and Finishes
Splices and Workfaces
Design Field
  “For us, even a birchbark canoe is a big basket.”
—Theresa Hoffman, Penobscot

The forms of most baskets announce their function. There is nothing ambiguous about the shape of a burden basket, or a basketry scoop or tray. Shape does not necessarily dictate weaving technique, as different weaves can be used to create similar forms. Large Apache jars have a characteristic silhouette, as do Thompson River Salish trunks, and whaler’s hats made by the Nuu-chah-nulth. Basket-makers work within these cultural parameters—or depart from them, as in the case of the Tlingit hat design adopted from the Russian Navy.

Many traditional baskets, and therefore shapes, were reduced in size for sale to non-Indians. While a tray made for sale is still identifiable as a tray, its size may preclude its use for anything other than to decorate a home. Weavers adapted shapes from other tribes’ repertoires in order to emulate baskets that were popular with non-Indian buyers. As introduced crops, livestock, and store-bought goods replaced traditional economies, baskets were no longer needed to harvest, prepare, cook, and serve, and their use faded.

Regardless of the maker’s weaving ability, a basket made of improperly prepared materials will have uneven stitches and designs, and may warp, split, or twist with time. A basket that has kept its shape over many years testifies to the sum of its maker’s skills.
  aesthetic_shape_fruit 198287   aesthetic_shape_cornmeal 18487
  aesthetic_shape_covered 36798   aesthetic_shape_olla 105419
  aesthetic_shape_jump 122813   aesthetic_shape_whaler 164130
  aesthetic_shape_russian 165272   aesthetic_shape_shouldered 165503
  aesthetic_shape_sifting 206940   aesthetic_shape_carrying 208230
  aesthetic_shape_winnowing 209590   aesthetic_shape_closed 231055