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Oregon Archaeology Highlight: Native American Ethnographic Basketry Digitization Project

October 22, 2020

Written by Pamela Endzweig and Elizabeth Kallenbach, University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History

Woven by Pat Courtney Gold

Basket weaving is a traditional craft with ancient roots in North America. Today, Indigenous People continue to make basketry for food gathering, preparation, and storage, clothing, baby cradles, carrying containers, use in ceremonies and celebrations, and as works of art. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History cares for an outstanding and unique collection of ethnographic baskets from the Far West, made by Native weavers from the Aleutians to New Mexico. While a number of items are on public display at the museum, much of this large and fragile collection is housed behind the scenes, in state-of-the-art vaults that ensure their safety and long-term preservation.

Woven by Emma Adams

In order to share this important collection with audiences around the world, the museum recently launched an online, searchable database featuring more than 1900 baskets representing the basketry of  diverse peoples and cultures from the 1800s to the present. About half of the baskets are from the Pacific Northwest (Northwest Coast, Arctic, and Subarctic), a quarter are from the Columbia-Fraser Plateau, and 13 percent are from California. Smaller numbers come from the Great Basin, Southwest, and Northeast, while a few others are of undetermined origin. More than a third are from Oregon, including 380 from west of the Cascades. While many of the baskets are more than a century old, we continue to acquire modern pieces, as funds allow, to showcase contemporary Native American artists. We are delighted to report nearly 200 searches of the database since its launch six weeks ago—a testament to the public interest in these significant objects and the cultural traditions they reflect.

Woven by Jennie Michelle

With its final phases supported by a 2019 Oregon Museum Grant, the Native American Ethnographic Basketry Database project directly serves the program’s objectives of collecting, preserving, interpreting, and promoting the collective history of Oregon for all. It also furthers the museum’s mission of enhancing knowledge of Earth’s environment and cultures and inspiring stewardship of our collective past, present, and future. We deeply appreciate Oregon Heritage Commission’s support in bringing the database to life and we are delighted to invite the public to explore it.

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