Native American


Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Aquinnah Wampanoag
Place: Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Media: Oak splints
Dims: 8.5 x 8 x 6.5 in. (21.6 x 20.3 x 16.5 cm).
Date: c. 1880-1900
RTC No:NA0094b
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


Wampanoag baskets are rare because they were ubiquitous and functional throughout New England resulting in their heavy use and being worn out. Ash baskets were used for just about every function from carrying and storing garden produce, harvesting berries and other wild foods, gathering eggs, pack baskets, and clothing storage boxes. Industrialization replaced some baskets with metal buckets and other containers, but some uses carried on. But with the passage of time things changed, more and more baskets were purchased exclusively as decorative and historic objects. Indigenous-made baskets can be overshadowed by baskets produced by sailing ship crews and a basket form invented by a Filipino immigrant in the 1940s; but all are known under the general name, Nantucket baskets.

Museums tended to ignore Wampanoag and other Indigenous New England made baskets because many believed Indigenous styles were intermingled with European basket technology or that some basket forms were introduced from Europe. In retrospect, it is clear that new ideas coming from outside their communities and tools strengthened Indigenous cultures and material used.

The Coe collection baskets look like they have not been used and were made to sell. The materials and decorative elements are long-standing Aquinnach Wampanoag features. The curving decorative elements were probably created using a heated metal tool. Basket scholar Joan Lester suggests these smaller baskets were made to bring clay up from the beach to make a type of popular tourist pottery.

These baskets, although collected in different places, might be by the same weaver whose name we, unfortunately, do not know. Both baskets share thick, sturdy handles, a round of turned splint decorative weaving under the wrapped rim, and wicker weaving with evenly sized sewing splints.

See artist Elisabeth James Perry speak about this piece on Collections Spotlight June 2020.

See also NA0094b
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011

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