In earlier days, baskets accompanied Indian people throughout their lives. Babies
were carried in baskets, meals were prepared and cooked in them, worldly goods
were stored in them, and people were buried in them. As the scene described here
by writer Peter Blue Cloud makes clear, many Native American people believe that
baskets were not given to humankind during the Creation, but had already been
part of the world for many eternities. Today, baskets serve as markers of cultural
pride and inheritance. Some are used on religious occasions. And hundreds of weavers
make baskets for sale.
I began this exhibition with the idea that we can understand baskets through the
details of their making—the weavers’ view. This idea is based upon
a knowledge of baskets gained through many years of conversations with weavers,
observation, and hands-on learning. Understanding basketmaking as process offers
a means to see the interrelation of conception, creation, and expression.
Objects for the exhibition were then preliminarily selected and laid-out and five
Native basket-makers and one Native basketry scholar were invited to a two-day
seminar to review the proposed contents and organization. While the basic outline
of the exhibition remained constant, the consulting curators honed my ideas and
choices. Above all, they wished to see more contemporary baskets on view. They
wanted to make clear that basketry is a living art, and that the baskets in the
Museum’s collections remain rooted in their cultures, no matter how long
ago they were made, used, purchased, and removed from their communities.
To help illustrate this continuity, they each chose four baskets from the collections
and paired them with baskets from their own or other Native basket-makers’
contemporary works. These juxtapositions, and my Native colleagues’ thoughts
on what they tell us, are presented in “The
Weavers’ View.” There is an intellectual and artistic replenishment
that occurs when Native weavers look at baskets made by their ancestors. The exhibition,
then, is about the continuing conversation of weaver to weaver through their art.
I am indebted to Pat Courtney Gold (Wasco–Tlingit), Theresa Hoffman (Penobscot),
Terrol Johnson (Tohono O’odham), Julia Parker (Pomo), Sherrie Smith-Ferri
(Dry Creek Pomo), and Lisa Telford (Haida), and to the many other weavers who
have shared their ideas with me. Ann McMullen, of the NMAI curatorial department,
has also contributed her knowledge and insights to this exhibition, in particular,
adding her expertise in Arctic and eastern North American baskets.
—Bruce Bernstein, Assistant Director for Cultural Resources,
National Museum of the American Indian