Thursday, July 03, 2008

19th Century Baskets

page 109: When European immigrants moved into the southern Appalachians, they brought white-oak containers and the expertise to make them. Using metal tools, they constructed cabins, furniture, and a wide range of functional objects for household use; made toys for their children; and carved musical instruments. they especially favored the plentiful oaks for making splint baskets, which were not among the basket forms made by the Cherokee at that time. Ever resourceful, however, Cherokee basket weavers added the oak material and the splint basket form to their repertoire, expanding once again their creative options.

After the Removal, the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw continued to make baskets in Indian Territory, each group developing its own unique style, yet all recalling the historical roots of the southern tradition.

Cherokee weavers in Oklahoma found different plant life. buckbrush, for example, with its long, liable runners suitable for weaving made an excellent basket-making material. The western Cherokee developed their own unique style of basket weaving based on both tradition and innovation, with strong, functional designs.

For the Cherokee in the nineteenth century, the basket tradition remained strong. Cane continued to be the primary material used in making Cherokee baskets during the first half of the century, as oak splints were added to the repertoire. Toward the end of the century, honeysuckle, a Japanese plant, was introduced in the South, and eastern Cherokee basket makers adopted it as a material, adding it to the similar indigenous variety that grew in the area.

Both eastern and western basket weavers used the double-weave technique, although each group had unique characteristics.... The double-weave technique of weaving baskets features an outside basket joined by a seamless edge to a separately woven inner basket, called the "return." The double weave permits a variety of innovative design combinations, from varying the width of splints and controlling the placement of color to creating strikingly different patterns between the exterior and interior woven layers.

Cherokee basket makers were masters of color and design, expertly using a wide range of natural resources. Bloodroot, a favored natural dye source, was used extensively. Found along the banks of streams and near running water, it can be recognized by the single white flower that blooms in the early spring. Walnut was used frequently to provide contrast to the red bloodroot dye (bloodroot alone produces an orange color; only when you add mordants does it turn to a red/orange color; see Cherokee Natural Dyes) and to the cane's natural soft golden color. In the late 1880s commercial aniline dyes became popular, although the nonnatural dyes were never fully accepted by collectors and buyers.

Although rivercane is very difficult to process and weave, it nonetheless remained a favored material where it was available. The weaver can create a range of geometric designs by varying the width and combinations of warp and weft; other advantages are the cane's shiny gloss and excellent dyeing properties. (you can tell Hamburg dyed and made double weaves by it's none glossy look - the outside shell of the cane is removed, so that it will accept dye better) Two weaving techniques predominate; checkerwork, used from prehistoric to contemporary times, featuring the warp and weft woven at right angles; and the double-weave twill technique, the most difficult to create, featuring diagonal patterns formed by the positioning of the warp and weft. A strong sense of color and design, particularly in the rivercane basketry, is a dominant feature of southeastern Indian basketry.

The Cherokee and other southeastern groups made and used various types of baskets for sacred and secular purposes. Where traditional basket making has persisted, the tray-like forms associated with food processing usually dominate the basket makers' production (Gettys 2001, 175). New types of baskets were made in elaborate form and pattern. Especially of interest artistically are the lidded examples using dyed rivercane.

The Cherokee Polychrome Basket with Lid (figure 29) is a rare pre-1843 double weave container made of durable rivercane; both its antiquity and artistic merits set it apart among those extant. The weaver skillfully created one of the most artistically significant polychrome twill-plaited baskets known to exist from the years immediately following the Trail of Tears Removal period (1838-1839_ when most North Carolina Cherokee were forcibly removed west to Indian Territory. The basket's double-weave construction is one of the most challenging weaves to create, and this basket verifies the considerable skill possessed by Cherokee weavers. The earliest known depiction of a similar type basket appears in the 1682 painting titled Les Tresors de l"Amerique (figure 2).

Both the lid and the body of the basket are formed with two separate, woven layers of rivercane strips, each with a unique design. While the lid's interior pattern is quite similar to its exterior one, the body of the basket is even more exceptional for having two totally different designs created for the inside and outside surfaces of the separate layers. The interior features a bold horizontal pattern, composed of the same dark brown, red, and golden yellow colors, yet dramatically set apart in its unique configuration. The complex double-walled structure, the challenging design solutions, and the highly refined shape suggest this basket was woven by one of the most skilled Cherokee basket makers of the time. The lid's unusual inward-slanting sides, surrounding and enclosing the concave surface of the top, give it an elegant, graceful profile unmatched by other examples.

This basket compares with two other very rare Cherokee lidded and dyed rivercane baskets of the eighteenth century: the first (figure 9), in the Sloane Collection of the British Museum, London; the second from the Historiska Museet, Lund, Sweden. Such expertly made baskets were valued objects, reserved for special use. Their refined form, size, and beauty suggest they were used to hold treasured personal items, exchanged in trade, or given to an official or dignitary in the region. Some such baskets were prized gifts that ended up in private and museum collections in Europe and the United States. Due to the antiquity and exceptional artistic merits, Polychrome Basket with Lid is one of the most important dyed rivercane lidded baskets made by the Cherokee.

After the 1840s, basket makers continued weaving baskets for many of their own needs and making others to sell or trade to non-Indians. Traditional form and function merged with new basket designs and uses. The need for ceremonial baskets of the preremoval period diminished. In fact, as Sarah Hill (1997) explains, "Of the three functions of baskets seen prior to the nineteenth century - utilitarian, trade, and ceremonial - only two remained visible after 1838, testifying eloquently to deep levels of cultural dislocation" (151). After the Removal, the economic significance of baskets became even more important to families; both men and women created and sold baskets to support their families in the new and different economy.

Dislocated Cherokee submitted spoliation claims requesting compensation for their losses during the Removal. The claim of John Vann ...dated 1838...listed two spinning wheels, furniture, tools, livestock, and other belongings, including thirty gourds, a half-pound of indigo, and six bunches (several strands tied together) of beads in assorted colors. ... Such inventories also support the theory that white-oak basketry became an important form of eastern Cherokee weaving after the Removal.

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book: