A set of values
Too often, when people think about Native American baskets, they assume that the weavers who make them are hemmed in by rules that govern the “traditional” arts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tradition is not a list of rules, but rather a set of values that guide the weaver’s work. Tradition may tell her to use plain twining to make a winnowing basket, but it also allows her to create a masterpiece, different from every other winnowing tray.
Most of the treasures in this gallery speak for themselves. One that, perhaps, does not, is the Chumash tray decorated with a Spanish coin motif. It was commissioned nearly two hundred years ago by Spanish administrators in Monterey, California, as a gift for a visiting dignitary. One thing that strikes me about its history is that the Chumash, who lived near Santa Barbara, were well enough known for their basketmaking that they would receive a commission from the colonial capital, 250 miles away.