Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cherokee Rootrunner Baskets - 1783

page 86: Rootrunner Basket (figure 17) was woven by Margaret "Peggy" Scott Vann (1783-1820), James Vann's third wife, whose mother was Cherokee. Rootrunner Basket is the earliest known example of a Cherokee basket made of rootrunner. It departs from Cherokee basket-weaving tradition in the use of the coiled vine material and it's non traditional form with a handle and fitted lid. This basket, one of only two rootrunner baskets from Spring Place, is round and fragile, as compared to the sturdy square and rectangular rivercane and white-oak examples made by other Cherokee weavers. Two other known baskets from the mission are the traditional double-weave rivercane technique.

Rootrunner Basket features vine woven around a sturdier frame than the earlier twill and plaited rivercane baskets in the region. This technique is comparable to that used for the honeysuckle baskets that would become popular later in the century. Like most utilitarian or domestic baskets, Rootrunner Basket features no dyed pattern, its decorative quality resting solely in its aesthetically pleasing round shape and gracefully formed handle.

The delicate, lightweight nature of the two mission rootrunner baskets suggests their intended purpose was not for heavy domestic use, but rather a more decorative and less rigorous existence, perhaps to hold valuables or simply to be admired as a luxury object resting in a special place. The differences in form and function imply that Cherokee basketry was evolving from a primarily utilitarian role to roles that met the demands of new audiences. The baskets clearly reveal the interaction of tow cultures - the Cherokee and Euro-Americans - and are unquestionable evidence of Cherokee basket weavers' skill in both keeping tradition alive and responding to contemporary currents.

Cherokee weavers experimented with various types of vine, reed, willow and other media. Some nineteenth-century baskets are incorrectly identified as being made of honeysuckle, but the Japanese plant was not available to Cherokee women until the 1890s and only became popular as a weaving material in the twentieth century. Furthermore, the vine used in these baskets is smooth all over, whereas honeysuckle vine has characteristic "knots."

Some basket designs may have been widely known and shared, while others perhaps belonged to a particular settlement, family, clan, or weaver, or may have signified certain customs, concepts, events, stories, or status )S. Hill 1997, 101). Through historic turmoil and social change, Cherokee basket weavers added new forms, materials, and patterns to the established repertoire. As a result, the Cherokee basketry tradition evolved to include both successful precedents and fresh innovations. Pottery, however, came closer to extinction than did basketry. That said, early nineteenth-century Moravian missionaries purchased ceramic vessels from Native American women in the area, suggesting new markets were possible for a declining craft.

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