Native American


Artist: The Youngbird Family (attrib.)
Culture/People: Eastern Band of Cherokee
Place: Qualla Boundary area, North Carolina, United States
Media: Twilled (plaited) dyed and undyed rivercane
Dims: 20.5 x 18.5 diam. in. (52 x 46.9 diam. cm).
Date: 1930s
RTC No: NA0370
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


Twill rivercane baskets are the oldest Cherokee basket tradition, and burden baskets are an ancient basket form as well. The Cherokee region was once filled with rivercane, but as agriculture and settlements changed from Cherokee to Europeans, the sense of landscape and its multiple uses and care changed. The rivercane patches which once grew in abundance and were used to make houses and baskets and mats were now nothing but a nuisance to Euro-American settlers.

Cherokee weavers depend on a reliable supply of materials in order to produce their work sourced from their own environment. While the ancestral home of the Cherokee was once a forested landscape, by the end of the eighteenth century, the natural habitat was diminishing. Stands of cane were cleared to make room for farming. In today’s western North Carolina mountains, development continues to destroy native canebrakes along the rivers’ edge. A severe decline in the availability of rivercane means that basket makers must travel farther and farther to find a suitable source.

Preparing the cane for a basket involves multiple steps—cutting, splitting, peeling/stripping, trimming, and dyeing. All of these steps must be completed before weaving can begin. The basket weaver trims the cane to produce long, thin, even strips used for weaving. The edges of these are razor-sharp; trimming the cane is not an easy task.

Watch Lydia Louise Goings and Tonya E. Carroll speak about this piece on Collections Spotlight June 2020.

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