Pat Courtney Gold
In spring 2003, the Museum invited Pat Courtney Gold and four other Native basket-makers
and one Native basketry scholar to a two-day seminar to review this exhibition
in its early stages. All of them expressed their strong wish to present basketry
as a living art, with strong links to cultural history. To help illustrate this
continuity, Pat chose these four baskets from the Museum’s collections and
paired them with baskets from her own and other Plateau basket-makers’ contemporary
Pat Courtney Gold is enrolled in the Wasco Nation of the Warm Springs Confederacy.
After pursuing a career in mathematics and computer science, in the early 1990s
she turned her attention to basketmaking. Since then, she has exhibited her baskets
in museums and galleries throughout the United States and has curated several
basketry shows. Harvard University’s Peabody Museum recently commissioned
her to write an essay on the Wasco basket collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition
in 1805 and to create a contemporary Wasco basket for their collection. Pat seeks
to preserve basketry techniques and traditional designs unique to the Columbia
River area. At the same time, her life and work reflect contemporary Native American
realities. "I enjoy experimenting with new fibers and trying variations on
old designs," she explains. "I'm sure if my ancestor basket weavers
were transplanted into this century, they would be inspired to do the same."
The Weaver’s View
Native art cannot be separated from culture and tradition. Historically, commerce
and trade was very important among the people along the Columbia River. The rivers
connected all the nations who used canoes, much as we use cars to travel the highways.
The trade center, Nixluidix, a Wasco–Wishram town, was very much like our
Baskets were used to collect, store, and trade food items. The baskets were made
to standard sizes, roughly equal to pint, quart, gallon, and 2-gallon volumes,
so that trade goods like pemmican, berries, wapato tubers, camas bulbs, and bitterroots
could be measured. Even today, baskets are used for root and food gathering, storage
of dried foods and personal items, and as gifts at festivals and give-aways.
Many basketry images represented the environment—salmon, sturgeon, people,
condor, mountains, and water. Abstract images include sturgeon roe, fawn spots,
and salmon gills. Traditional designs are handed down from family to family and
sometimes from tribal nation to weavers. Native elders are living museums. They
pass on the weaving traditions, techniques, and designs.
The twined cornhusk bag with geometric images, the Klikitat coiled basket with
its traditional shape, and the cedar-bark and sedge-grass Chinook basket are beautiful
examples of the continuation of 12,000 years of Native heritage and tradition.