Longyear Museum presents exhibition featuring Native American baskets

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The Longyear Museum of Anthropology will celebrate the opening of the exhibition Weaving Identities: Native American Baskets in the Longyear Museum Collection with a reception on Thursday, November 13, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. The reception will feature a Q&A by 15 students who researched the baskets as a project for the course Native Art of North America.

Basket weaving is an ancient Native American art, which has been practiced continuously over millennia and has developed various regional distinctions based on materials, form, and technique.

The baskets in this exhibition date from the late 19th century to the present and derive from various cultural regions including the Arctic, Northwest Coast, Southwest, Eastern Woodlands, Great Basin, and California coast.

fancy basket

Denise Jock, Mohawk, Fancy Basket. Longyear Museum of Anthropology, funded by Whitney Scott ’08. (Photo by Warren Wheeler)

The environment of each area determined the materials available for basket making. Southeast baskets, for example, are commonly made from long pine needles, river cane, and various types of vines, while Northwest Coast peoples used cedar bark, swamp grass, or spruce root.

Throughout the Eastern woodlands, ash and oak splints were used to create plaited baskets. Arctic cultures used sea grass, sometimes decorated with shiny seal gut, while Southwest groups relied in particular on willow, yucca leaf, and Devil’s Claw (martynia).

The exhibition includes many baskets from Akwesasne, a Mohawk community on the border between New York state and Quebec province in Canada. There, the preferred materials are black ash splints and sweet grass, which imparts a delicious aroma to the baskets.

Baskets at Akwesasne have developed into a fine art and an economic mainstay in which both men and women have roles. Men typically fell the trees and pound the wood to release the splints, while women do most of the weaving, especially of elaborate fancy baskets with splint twists and bright colors. Men weave mainly undecorated practical baskets, such as pack baskets and corn washers.

The reception will take place at the Longyear Museum of Anthropology, which is located on the second floor of Alumni Hall.

The exhibition continues through March 12, 2015. Museum hours are Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m.  to  4:30 p.m. and by appointment when Colgate is in session. For information, please contact the museum assistant Brian Smith at bdsmith@colgate.edu or (315) 228-6643.