native american art
Baskets are one of the oldest forms of storage and transportation of food and water. Grass was one of the
most abundant natural materials available for basket making. Many baskets, particularly in the Southwest,
were also constructed of yucca fibers, corn
husks and willow.

Basketry began in the Southwest during the late Archaic Age (ca. 1800 b.c.e.). It was during this period that
the cultures commonly referred to as Basket maker arose. These people were believed to have been the
ancestors of the Anasazi and Mogollon.

Descendants of these cultures who excelled in basketry include the Akimel O'Odham (Pima), Tohono

O'odham (Papago), and Hopi. The Apache and Dine (Navajo), who later settled in this region, became
excellent basket makers as well.

There are three basic techniques involved in basketry. The earliest known is "twining", where the wefts or
moving elements twist around the foundation elements or warps. Next is "coiling", where the base element is
coiled and held in place by the warping element. Thirdly, is "plaiting", with the warps and wefts woven over and
under each other in a particular pattern.
Apache baskets are generally associated with four sub-groups known as White Mountain and San Carlos (Western), Jicarilla, and Mescalero.
The White Mountain Apache baskets are finely woven with narrow coils of willow and devil’s claw (
martynia).  They are considered to be
some of the finest baskets woven in the Southwest.  From around 1900 to the 1940’s, large bowl-shaped baskets were made with natural
colors. The weaver utilized devil’s claw for a contrasting brown color, resulting in a bi-colored basket, or yucca root which produced a red
color, resulting in a polychrome
(three or more colors) basket. Early mid-century baskets are the most desirable by collectors
as these baskets are rarely made today.

San Carlos Apache baskets are very similar to White Mountain but usually woven with thicker or coarser splints.  They are made in many
different forms including flat, jar shaped, or conical bowls.  Most also employ the use of devil’s claw to enhance design elements.  There
seems to be less use of red in San Carlos baskets, and there are a few basket weavers continuing to produce a limited number of baskets.  

 Jicarilla basketry is quite active and alive today thanks to support through a tribal arts program. Younger weavers have taken an interest in
their tradition of basket making.  Jicarilla basket are easily recognizable by their bright aniline colors in typical jar or bowl forms.  During the
mid-century, large hamper baskets with lids became prize collectibles, although very few are made today.  Most baskets include geometric
elements representing natural things such as butterflies and mountain designs, and basket materials include willow and sumac splints.

 The Mescalero Apache created very unique coiled basketry with the use of wide flat coils of willow or sumac for the foundation, and yucca
for the stitching element.  Because of the yucca, the baskets were usually various shades of green, yellow, or white.  A six-point star or flower
design was most often woven on a flat coiled form.  Occasionally, there were larger storage baskets woven in past years, but the basket
tradition has nearly died out among the Mescalero Apache people today.
Western Apache
(San Carlos) ca. 1980s
Western Apache
(White Mountain)
ca. 1930s
Jicarilla Apache
ca. 1950s
Jicarilla Apache
ca. 1980s
Baskets by the Hopi on Third Mesa are made exclusively in a plaited wickerwork style.  There are varying forms, including plaques and
circular shaped bowls.  Most Hopi baskets are made with bold geometric designs representing the natural elements, figurative images, or
katsinas.  An image seen quite often on Hopi wicker plaques
are the “whirling wind” designs.   

Prior to the 1920's, an "open" start with a natural color rim was commonly woven.  After 1920, a "closed" start was used when starting a
basket and finished with a dark rim.  The starts and rim colors are good indicators of the age of the basket. However, some baskets may fall
into a transitional stage where they employ both styles and may be referred to as a "hybrid" or "transitional" basket.

In the early days, natural dyes were prepared and used, but by the early twentieth century the natural dyes had fallen out of favor and
replaced with commercial aniline dyes. Colored dyes were often gathered by Hopi women from raw materials such as yucca roots, alder bark
alnus incana), morman tea (ephedra viridis), sumac leaves (rhua trilobata), kaolin clay, and sunflower seeds.  Today, most weavers opt to
use commercial dyes due to the time-consuming process and the difficulty of obtaining certain colors such as black and red. When using
natural dyes, the plant material must be ground and boiled, then the weaving materials must be soaked
for several days to obtain the desired color.

The materials gathered by Hopi women to make wicker baskets are dune broom (
Parryella filifolia), and sometimes sumac (Rhus trilobata),
for the warp, and rabbit brush (
Bigelovia sp. or Chrysothamnus sp.) for the weft.  A special wicker wedding plaque is made by the bride and
her family to give to the groom.  The wedding baskets designs are woven with an inter-locking set of blue rectangles, symbolizing the
couple’s union.  The baskets are filled with corn meal and presented at the ceremony.  The basket will remain with the groom until his death.  
Other wicker baskets are sometimes made and used in certain ceremonies such as the harvest festival or rain dance.
 Plaited yucca ring
baskets are also still made by the Hopi women of all three mesas for processing grains and corn. They also continue to make twill plaited
“piki” trays for holding traditional piki bread.
The baskets of the Hopi on Second Mesa are made exclusively by the coiling method.  The foundation or warp is made of galleta grass
Hilaria jamesii), and the weft, or stitching element is made of yucca (yucca baccata and elata.) Coiled forms include flat plaque and bowl
forms.  On occasion, large cylindrical storage baskets have been woven.

The designs on Hopi coiled basketry
are very similar to the designs found on wickerwork.  The images may include “whirling wind” designs,
geometric designs, figurative designs, and katsina imagery. As with the wickerwork, early coiled baskets were also dyed with natural
materials until around 1900-1920 when weavers began to use commercial aniline dyes.  

Both Hopi coiled and wicker baskets play an important role in Hopi life, from food processing to ceremonial uses. Wedding baskets on
Second Mesa are made with a floral or star design, using only three natural colors-white (or natural), green and black.  Like the wicker
wedding baskets, coiled wedding baskets are also filled with corn meal and presented during the wedding ceremony to signify the couple’s
bond and union.

Hopi coiled baskets on Second Mesa also reflect the cultural status and age of a woman.  If the rim finish is left open-ended, it was made by
an unmarried young woman of childbearing age.  If the rim was partially finished and loosely bound, it was made by a married woman.  If the
rim finish is tightly bound and closed, it was made by an older woman or widow.
  Rio Grande Pueblo baskets are made from the red willow and woven in a wicker-like manner. The red willow (Salix Laevigata) is native to
the Southwest region and grows well near rivers and low-lying areas with moist soil.  After gathering the materials, the sturdy baskets are
generally started with eight heavy willow rods.  Then groups of longer pliable willow wefts are woven over and under the warp.  Design
elements are sometimes woven in a circular pattern using peeled willow for color contrast. When the basket size is achieved, the warp
extensions are then brought up and braided in a decorative fashion. The willow baskets of the Rio Grande Pueblos are made by the men.

  This style of basketry is undocumented prior to Spanish contact, and may have been influenced by European styles introduced to the
pueblos.  However, the basket is now considered a “traditional” basket and is used for carrying, storing, and serving food.  The baskets are
also used during feast days and in basket dances, such as those at the Santa Clara Pueblo, where Joseph Gutierrez makes his traditional
wicker baskets. Joseph is credited with perpetuating the basket style and is teaching others at his pueblo.

Arnold Herrerra, of Cochiti Pueblo, is an artist, teacher, and cultural interpreter who also makes red willow wicker baskets.  He has
demonstrated basket making at Bandelier National Monument and was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Pascual
Martinez was an early weaver from San Ildefonso known for his excellent skills in making large jar shaped willow wicker baskets.  There have
been few to follow in his footsteps and today there are no known weavers making this style at the pueblo.

Tomas Garcia was the last known weaver to make traditional wicker baskets at Santo Domingo Pueblo.  He is believed to have died in the
late 1980’s or early 1990’s.  Artist Don Nieto, who was raised at Santo Domingo, stated “I remember seeing Tomas hauling his supplies on
his back from the Rio Grande River.  My uncle lived next door to him, so I was able to watch him make the baskets.”
The Navajo or Diné, as they call themselves, are a tribe who according to anthropologists, belong to an Athabascan-speaking people who
migrated south around 1300 to 1500 c.e. Navajo women are known for making several kinds of traditional baskets.  A coiled burden basket
was made for gathering and carry food items.  A coiled basket water jar was made then coated with pinon pitch to make the jar water-proof.  
The third was the “ts’aa’ or coiled circular basket tray.  This tray today is well known as a Navajo “wedding” basket.

Early Navajo baskets were usually woven with large cross designs, also known as the Spider Woman cross, in addition to the traditional
wedding basket designs.  These baskets were filled with cornmeal and carried during wedding ceremonies.  Similar baskets were also used
for carrying other ritual materials for use in various ceremonies such as the Rain Dance, Fire dance, or healing ceremonies.  During mid-
century, however, basket making declined among the Navajo and only a few women wove baskets.  The manufacture of turquoise jewelry
over-shadowed basketry and the Navajo began to trade with Paiute women who made the baskets for them.

 Traditional materials for Navajo baskets include coiled stitching elements of sumac (
Rhus trilobata) with the bundle foundation made of
yucca (
Yucca baccata or glauca).  Black and red colors are the result of using aniline dyes, although early weavers, and some modern day
weavers, still use the mountain mahogany root (
Cerco carpus betulaefolious) to obtain a brownish red color. Black, red, and natural, were
the traditional colors used by early weavers, but with the explosion of aniline colors available today, a multitude of colors may be found on
contemporary Navajo baskets .

   Navajo basketry underwent a significant rebirth in the late 1960’s, when Mary Holiday Black began to weave pictorial and Ye’i and Ye’i bi
Chei images on her baskets.  Mary, whose father was a medicine man, is a renowned weaver today and is considered the matriarch of
Navajo basketry. Not only was she responsible for a renaissance in Navajo basketry, she has revived and preserved a cultural tradition.
According to Greg Schaaf, Mary Holiday Black is a “legend in her own time,” and her baskets are highly collectable.  In 1995, she was
awarded a National Heritage Fellowship award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her eldest daughter, Sally Black, is also a master
award-winning weaver.   Sally is one of the most well-known and respected of the contemporary Navajo weavers.  Her baskets are also
sought after by collectors and museums alike.
Mary Holiday Black
Ye'i design, 1990s
Sally Black, geometric
designs, 1990s
The Akimel O’odham or River People, also called Pima by the Spanish, inhabit the area around the Gila River in Arizona.  Similar to their
neighbors, the Tohono O’Odham or Papago, the Pima people lived in an arid environment.  However, unlike the Papago, the Pima people
benefited by living next to a river which allowed them to not only have access to fresh water, but provided them with the ability to grow and
irrigate their crops.  The Pima are of the Uto-Aztecan language group and are believed to be descendants of the ancient Hohokam people.

    The Pima are well-known for their finely made coiled willow basketry. Because of their close proximity to the river, the Pima were able to
harvest great quantities of willow to make their baskets.  Basket foundations were often made of local grasses or cattail and strips of devil’s
claw (martynia) was used for the design elements. Baskets were generally woven with squash blossom, geometric fretwork
or whirling wind
designs, while some weavers used figurative images of humans and animals on occasion. The basket starts are made with devil’s claw and
the rim was finished with a traditional herringbone weave. In early years, the Pima also wove large storage baskets made of
wheat straw for storing their grains.

  Although the Pima still make baskets today, there are few weavers making the large bowl-shaped baskets of the early 20th century.  These
beautiful tightly woven baskets began to decline around the 1930’s-40’s when there was no longer a functional need for them.  To
complicate matters, basket materials and resources began to dwindle after a dam was built on the Gila River.  When the river  began to run
dry, many of the native willow trees and cattails died off.

   One weaver who has made an impact in keeping the basket making tradition alive for the Pima today is Rikki Francisco.  Although she is a
modern day weaver, she still
makes the large baskets with old traditional designs.  She gathers her own materials and makes her own red
dye from the Mountain Mahogany root.  Rikki is a teacher and an award winning weaver who is the only member of her family to take up the
basket weaving tradition.
The Tohono O’odham, as they are known today, or “Papago” people as they were called by the Spanish, live in the Sonoran desert country
of southwest Arizona.  The ancient name they called themselves was “Tohono Aw-aw-tam”, or the Desert People. Life was harsh in the
desert and growing crops was extremely difficult. They practiced seasonal stream run-off farming called “akchin.” In addition to growing some
beans, corn, and squash, the people adapted to harvesting different food sources from the desert such as prickly pear, cactus fruit, century
plant, and yucca stalks.

   Early cone-shaped burden baskets were made by the women from fibers of the desert century plant.  The burden baskets were woven
with a stitch similar to that of a crochet stitch, a technique that is undocumented among any other tribe in North America. Twill plaited mats
were also woven from grass for mats to sit and sleep on.  By the twentieth century, most Tohono O’odham women were making coiled
basketry of willow and devil’s claw stitched around a foundation of bear grass (
Nolina microcarpa) or cattail (Typha sp.) stems.  After the
1930’s, when willow became scarce in the desert areas of the Tohono O’odham Reservation, most weavers began to make baskets
constructed of yucca (
Yucca baccata) along with a bear grass foundation. However, they still continue to use devil’s claw (Martynia) which
grows well in the desert climate.

   In the 1950’s and 60’s, animal effigy baskets became more popular with tourists, and Tohono O’odham weavers began to incorporate
more animal designs in their basketry.  Pictorial “friendship” baskets showing multiple human figures holding hands have also become very
popular.  Other basket forms have been made over the years, including the split wheat stitch coiled flat baskets, and the popular horse hair
miniature baskets.

Award winning weaver Matilda Thomas wove baskets for over seventy years and was given a Lifetime Achievement award. She was
described as one of America’s premier basket weavers who specialized in intricate friendship and squash blossom baskets.  Annie Antone is
a multiple award-winning basket weaver who has changed the course of Tohono O’odham basketry.  She is known for her tightly coiled
baskets with elaborate designs of prehistoric Hohokam motifs, desert landscapes, and detailed animal effigies.  Annie gathers and uses
own materials and
natural dyes including yucca root (Yucca arizonica) for her reddish-orange colors.  

Norma Antone is another who has been recognized for her exquisite weaving skills in making colorful miniature horsehair baskets, along with
Terrol Dew Johnson who has also been instrumental in the promotion and preservation of traditional basket weaving.  He is an award winning
weaver and has participated in many national exhibitions including shows at the Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian, and
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.
The Seri Indians inhabit the eastern coastal lands of the Sea of Cortez, stretching over 100 miles along the Gulf of California.  The area,
which includes Tiburon Island, was first explored by the Spanish who encountered the Seri in the 16th century.  The Seri are culturally and
linguistically related to the Yuman tribes of southern Arizona. At the time of first contact, their numbers were estimated at over 5,000.  Today,
their population is estimated at around 700, with most occupying the villages of Punta Chueca and Desemboque.

The Seri live in a harsh and challenging environment in the southern Sonoran Desert where little fresh water is available.  Average rainfall is
less than three inches per year, and growing crops is nearly impossible.  Although some modern food conveniences are available from local
stores, the Seri still live off of the sea where they fish year round and hunt sea turtles.  They also harvest seasonal fruit they call “imam” from
the various cactus in the region, including the saguaro and organ pipe cactus. Later in the fall, a fruit called “pitaya agrita,” is harvested from
another desert cactus.

     Seri women are known for their fine coiled basketry made from the native shrub they call “haat” (Jatropha cuneata).  The long stems are
cut in three to four foot lengths all the way to the ground.  The women are careful not to damage the roots as the shrub will eventually send
out new shoots.  The stems are processed and the outer splints are used for coiling, while the inner pith which has a rough texture, is used
for the foundation.  Most Seri women use natural dyes to color their basket splints. The White Ratany (Krameria grayi), called “heepol” in the
Seri language, produces a brownish-red color from the inner bark and root.  A natural black dye was made from mesquite tree bark or
mesquite beans, although today many weavers have access to black analine dye.

     Most early Seri baskets served as “burden baskets” for gathering or carrying food. A traditional “hasajaa”, was a bowl-shaped basket
used by the women for their daily chores.  Ceremonial or baskets to be sold are woven with more decoration and design.  Seri basketry is
traditionally polychrome (three or more colors) and is made of natural, brownish-red or amber, and black colors.  Most basket forms are
large open bowls and olla-shaped baskets.  

    Design elements may range from floral motifs, stars, and butterflies, to animal effigies or human figures. Seri women are also known for
their large and elaborate fiesta or ceremonial “septim” baskets, with some measuring several feet wide.  Seri baskets are hard to obtain
because of the tribe’s remote location, and are considered by some to be the finest and largest baskets ever woven in the Southwest.        
Coiled Plaque, ca. . 1950s
Maltese Cross Maiden
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1900
Whirling Wind Design
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1950s
Navajo style Wedding
Basket Design
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1950s
Turtle Design
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1900
Whirling Wind Design
Coiled bowl with handles
ca. 1980s
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1980s
Insect/Scorpion Design
Coiled Plaque, ca. 1990s
Mudhead "Koyemsi"
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1940s
Hilili Katsina Design
Wicker Plaque
ca. 1
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1940s
Wedding Basket Design
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1940s
Spiral Design
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1980s
edding Basket Design
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1940s
hirling Wind
Wicker Plaque(transitional)
ca. 1915-1920
piral Design
Wicker Plaque, ca. 1980s
edding Basket Design
Bowl-shaped Basket
ca. 1940s
Large shallow bowl with
squash blossom design

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped Basket with
whirling log/wind design

ca. 19
Large Shallow Bowl with
fret work design

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped basket w/
handles & start design

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped Basket

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped Basket
ca. 19
Basket tray with turtle

ca. 19
Basket tray
ca. 19
Bowl-shaped Basket
ca. 1940s
Basket tray w/ animal &
human effigies

ca. 19
Basket tray
ca. 19
Large shallow basket w/
star design,
ca. 1980s
Bowl-shaped Basket
(reverse side)

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped Basket w/
butterfly/star design

ca. 19
Large shallow basket  
(reverse side)

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped basket by
Tomas Garcia

ca. 19
Bowl-shaped basket by
Tomas Garcia

ca. 19
Navajo (prob. Paiute
made) ca. 1950's
Large Navajo bowl w/
star design, ca. 1980's
Navajo tray w/
traditional wedding
design, ca. 1980's