Basketry: An Art that Lives Across Generations

Link TV | Paige Bardolph

When asked to describe the significance of baskets in pre-Contact California, Pomo basketry and ethnobotany expert Sherrie Smith Ferri (Dry Creek Pomo) succinctly stated: “baskets pervaded just life. Social life, daily life — what you needed to survive.” Ferri aptly conveys the importance of baskets in Native California culture, an artistic tradition that has been practiced for thousands of years. It’s one that has endured hardship, loss, adaptation and resilience throughout history. For several years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend invaluable time in the presence of many talented basketweavers. Ask any weaver in California and they will tell you that baskets traditionally were — and continue to be — essential for all aspects of life.

People cooked in baskets, stored food in baskets, danced with them, sang with them and gave them as gifts. They were used for fishing, for gathering and processing acorn, for use in ceremonies, and eventually, for selling to others. Some baskets are so finely woven they are watertight and can be used to store and transport water. Aside from some desert areas in the southeastern part of the state, California does not have the type of soil conducive to pottery, which further enforces the predominance of basketry in Native California art and material culture. While traditionally women were the primary weavers of their community, today, there are also talented male weavers who are helping to ensure its survival. As weaver Justin Farmer (Ipai) describes: “a man weaver is better than no weaver at all.”…read more

Image: Feather basket by Mabel McKay (Cache Creek Pomo) | Collection of Marshall McKay and Sharon Rogers McKay