Woven Identities - Basketry Art of Western North America

An intriguing variety of baskets from 60 tribal groups and ranging from 800 years old to contemporary examples populate the pages of Valerie K. Verzuh’s new book Woven Identities: Basketry Art of Western North America (Museum of New Mexico Press). Verzuh is a curator at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, where she has worked for 13 years.

“These are baskets as fine art. That’s what they’ve become since the 1880s, when people no longer had the time to make baskets for the household and they realized they could do it for museums and collectors and also tourists.” The more than 200 baskets in the show and the book include tourist pieces adorned with butterflies and peacocks and more traditional baskets whose geometric designs relate more to the stitching patterns used than to intentional decoration.

Only 45 are identified as having been created by an individual artist. Every one of the baskets has what Verzuh calls a “woven identity” that may be read in its utility, form, and materials. One of the many wonderful examples is a woven cradle, nearly a century old, that was fashioned from hazelnut shoots, conifer root, alder-dyed Woodwardia fern, shells, glass beads, and cotton string and includes a little baby sunshade and a bead toy hanging inside.