Native American

feathered Gift Baskets

Artist: Unknown

Culture/People: Pomo

Place: Mendocino and Lake Counties, California

Media: Two single rod baskets are woven on a foundation of willow sticks and sewn with sedge roots. Yellow feathers are from the breast of the meadowlark, and iridescent green feathers are from the head and neck of a mallard duck, both baskets trimmed with quail top knots.

Dims: Yellow: 2.25 in. diameter (5.7 cm); iridescent green, 2 in. diameter (5 cm).

Date: c. 1900

Description: Pomo basket makers are widely admired for their breathtaking skills, as seen in these miniature baskets. Each is a virtuoso performance of selecting, harvesting, preparing plant materials, and the artist’s choice in using either all yellow or all iridescent green feathers. The feathers are not applied after the basket has been woven, but are an integral part of the weaver’s conceptualization and the artistic process with each feather being carefully placed under a stitch before the stitch is pulled and tightened.

Creating a miniature basket requires exquisite skill to accommodate the reduced size of materials used, and that although the piece is smaller, it must still be strong and resilient. Weaving it is exponentially more difficult. The maker(s) of these baskets have chosen not to trim the feathers, leaving them long, which creates a pattern. The quail plumes used on each basket’s lip elevates the rim outward and upward, beyond the bowls’ own presence. Combined with the beautiful natural colors, the basket seems to hover in a corona separate from its physical body.

Miniature and feathered baskets were made as payment for doctoring by Native healers; gifts to mark life’s stages such as births, marriages, and deaths; as well as to trade with merchants for food and other manufactured goods such as cloth, and metal and chinaware containers.

Baskets provided much-needed income to purchase back their lands for Pomo people in Lake and Mendocino counties. Decimated by planned genocide and systemic racism, Pomo peoples did not shrink from continuing their cultures and societies. They adapted and kept their traditions and mixed them with new ideas and products. Selling baskets to voracious basket collectors of the early twentieth century is an example of Pomo people’s and communities’ survival and strength. Using Pomo artistic legacies and money earned from sales to purchasing back their lands to live with dignity and sovereignty is the ultimate dramatic irony. Purchasing back their homelands helped Pomo people to endure as a people and lift themselves above the destructive governmental policies and actions.

For a longer article about these two pieces, please click here.

RTC No: NA0538ab
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011

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