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Decoding Native California Baskets

Linda Yamane making a basket | Still from KCET Artbound's "The Art of Basket Weaving"
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Native American basketry has long been viewed as a community craft, yet the artistic quality and value of these baskets are on par with other fine art. Now Native peoples across the country are revitalizing basketry traditions and the country looks to California as a leader in basket weaving revitalization. There has been a revival in traditional basket weaving, thanks to the work of the California Indian Basketweavers Association (CIBA), which was founded in 1992 under the slogan “keeping the tradition alive.” This episode was made in partnership with the Autry Museum of the American West and CIBA.
S9 E8: The Art of Basket Weaving

Artbound "The Art of Basket Weaving" is a KCETLink production in association with the Autry Museum of the American West and California Indian Basketweavers' Association.

For thousands of years, weaving has been an indelible part of the daily and spiritual lives of Native communities, especially here in California. Baskets become food storage containers, fish traps, baby cradles, slippers, even houses.  In the hands of master weavers, mathematical precision, geometry and artistry combine to create an impressive work of art and craftsmanship.  Here’s a deeper look at some of the baskets that Native California weavers have ingeniously produced over the centuries.

Pomo Feathered Gift Baskets

This photo doesn’t justify the amazingly miniscule size of these baskets, and consequently, the skill it took to create such works of art. Woven by a Pomo weaver, the smallest of these baskets is about as small as a dollar coin, but that dearth of space doesn’t compromise its aesthetics. No wonder these miniature baskets were often presented as gifts during special occasions such as weddings and life celebrations.

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Glass-covered Bottle

This glass-covered bottle, woven by a Hupa weaver, emerged as a response to the growing basket trade. They were sold as collectible items.

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Coiled Cahuilla Basket

Made in the early 1900s, this basket made by a Cahuilla weaver shows the direct connection of the Native material culture with the environment. Knowledge of plant and animal life in her traditional desert homeland helped her capture the beautiful geometry of the rattlesnake in this basket.

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Cahuilla Basket Tray

Again the rattlesnake motif re-appears, but this time the weaver introduces additional complex flower patterns. Cahuilla weavers used different kinds of plants in this making this basket, each found within their lands, which shows the direct connection of flora and fauna in their daily lives.

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Fish Trap

Baskets are used for virtually all aspects of Native California life. Though women were usually the weavers in Native California communities, men would also weave objects like fish traps or hunting basekts. In this example, a fish trap thought to be made by a Pauite weaver, shows how baskets could be both beautiful and useful.

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Hupa Baby Cradle

Baskets were part of every aspect of Native life. Here, the weavers created this cradle out of available plant material to house one of the most precious things in their lives, their children.

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Karuk Basket Cap

Woven by a Karuk weaver, this item is made to be a cap to be used daily, but also on special ceremonial occasions. At significant events today, you may see people wear these caps as a sign of their Native identity.

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Top Image: Linda Yamane making a basket | Still from KCET Artbound's "The Art of Basket Weaving." This article was edited by: Paige Bardolph.

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