Frequently Asked Questions about Arizona State Museum's Woven Wonders
Is this the world’s largest collection of American Indian basketry?
“We know of no other museum collection larger, more impressive, better documented, or more comprehensively representative of every major indigenous basket-making group in North America,” said Mike Jacobs, ASM’s curator of archaeological collections. “Rare and outstanding baskets represent the bulk of this collection but there are other woven objects such as sandals, cradle boards, mats, cordage, and preserved fibers. It also includes weaving-related items such as twigs, seeds, and a myriad of botanicals used in the weaving process. The collection totals about 25,000 objects.”
Diane Dittemore, ethnological collections curator, added, “Among the 25,000 objects are roughly 4000 historic and contemporary baskets from all over North America and northern Mexico. The overall documentation is extremely high. ASM’s historic O’odham, Apache, and Seri basketry is unrivaled.”
What is the oldest example in this collection?
Among the collection's oldest objects are hundreds of ancient Basketmaker (ca. 1000 B.C.E.–850 C.E.) sandals made by a combination of plain weave and alternate pair twining of finely spun yucca fiber cordage. The raised, sometimes colored, designs on the soles of these sandals, in addition to being an expression of the makers' artistic sensibilities, may also have served to uniquely identify sandals and their weavers.
What is the newest example in this collection?
The museum’s newest acquisition is a contemporary Tohono O’odham yucca basket by Loretta Saraficio. It was the winner of the Hartman H. Lomawaima Memorial Acquisition Award at the museum’s 2011 Southwest Indian Art Fair.
What is the largest example in the collection?
The museum’s largest example is a stunning Yavapai or Western Apache coiled olla that is almost 3.5 feet tall. It probably was made just after 1900 by an anonymous but extremely talented weaver who may have lived at San Carlos.
What is the smallest example in the collection?
The museum’s smallest example is a coiled willow Pomo basket (1924–25) of impressively small dimension, about the size of the lentil shown with it here.
What is the rarest object in the collection?
Painted prehistoric baskets are extraordinarily rare. ASM has several important Mogollon examples.
Our examples of braided H-strap sandals (as in photo at left) from the Sinagua culture are also very rare.
The rarest ethnographic basket may well be a Mescalero Apache twined tus, or pitched water jar (right), with remarkable documentation. Pasted to the side of this jar is a hand-written note that reads: Esa hoya fue quitada a lys yndios mescaleros en la Sierra de Guadalupe, Texas en año de 1860 por Crecencio Roybal de San Elizario, Texas. (This jar was taken from the Mescalero Indians in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas, in the year of 1860 by Crescencio Roybal of San Elizario, Texas).
Which prehistoric cultures are represented?
Which modern-day cultures are represented?
Why are these woven objects important?
Dr. Nancy Odegaard examines an extremely rare painted basket in order to identify pigments and to study weaving technology.
Basketry, cordage, and matting are perhaps the oldest human crafts on earth. Further, basketry is one of the great American Indian cultural art traditions, a source of pride for the makers and their communities past and present, and endlessly fascinating to non-Native collectors, researchers, and the general public. Basketry is a technology that cannot be mechanized, and that continues to be produced, especially among Native communities in the Southwest. That basket weaving survives in our increasingly mechanized world is a testament to the skill, patience, and appreciation of cultural heritage that current practitioners of this ancient art possess.
What can we learn from studying basketry and other weavings?
Prehistoric and historic weavings can tell us a lot about what kinds of food the people gathered, stored and ate; where they gathered resources; what they wore; how homes were furnished; how they expressed themselves creatively and spiritually; and many other details of their lives. No two cultures produce basketry with the same technical skill, detail, or design. These attributes tend to be local and culturally determined. Deciphering the details of technology, material choice, and design on a basket can provide tremendous information about its maker.
Why should I support the Woven Wonders project?
The Woven Wonders project is important for three reasons:
According the Head Conservator Nancy Odegaard, we’re extremely lucky to have archaeological fiber preserved at all, due to its rarity. As they age over time, natural fibers undergo a chemical breakdown process and become brittle. They literally shed and break apart with movement.
Though most deterioration processes are irreversible, ASM conservators have been researching methods of de-acidification for cordage and basketry fibers as well as developing new storage improvement designs. In fact, Arizona State Museum’s conservators are the first in the nation to conduct extensive, successful research on the use of nano-particles to de-acidify ancient fibers.
Upgrading the museum environment for this precious and extensive collection, with state-of-the-art storage cabinets in a climate-controlled vault will bring together all of the museum's woven objects (which now are in several storage rooms in two buildings) and will end the shelf-crowded conditions in which they presently exist. This will also eliminate the need to for “stacking,” which exposes the fragile fibers to potential destructive abrasion.
Lastly, this project will make the collection of woven wonders more accessible. Documentation that includes new images, curatorial updates, and condition assessments will be completed. This in turn will make the collection available, as it never before has been, to all the many audiences who wish to enjoy, study, and learn from it. This includes Native American artists, scholars, researchers, students, and the interested public.
You can help with a generous tax-deductible contribution.
As a condition of the $400,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, Arizona State Museum must match the award dollar for dollar.
Checks, payable to “University of Arizona/ASM Woven Wonders,” may be sent to:
Or you can donate quickly and easily to ASM’s “conservation fund” using the University of Arizona Foundation’s secure web site.
Or contact Darlene Lizarraga with a credit card handy at 520-626-8381.
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Photos by Jannelle Weakly
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