Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Apache Basketry

Illustration: Range of Apache basketry, 1907.

The Apache people were skilled basket makers who traditionally produced a wide range of baskets for a number of domestic uses. The main categories of basketry that were produced include wide shallow trays that were used for winnowing, vase shaped baskets that were used for storing grain, bowls for preparation, and what are termed burden baskets for the general carrying of firewood, food and any other domestic item that needed instant and easy transportation.

 Illustration: Apache basket.

Traditional Apache basketry was made using locally gathered willow shoots which although virtually white in colour when harvested and when the baskets were initially woven, changed colour gradually over time and with contact with direct sunlight, into an attractive and subtle warm yellowish tone. The baskets were produced using the coiled technique, which can be both a slow and sometimes fairly difficult skill to master. Including a range of pictorial and geometrical decorative motifs within the design, which was relatively common amongst much of the Apache produced basketry, was all the more demanding and therefore much more challenging to achieve.

Illustration: Apache burden basket.

Apache basketry production is seen by many to have reached its high point both creatively and technically, during the late nineteenth century when tourism took over from the domestic production of basketry. The level was maintained until well into the twentieth century, but by the 1930s, the depression produced a dramatic drop in the number of tourists, leading to an obvious lack of demand. However, since the end of the Second World War Native American basketry techniques and skills have been widely and generally recognised, as some of the finest achieved within the craft anywhere on the planet and antique baskets are both highly collectable and expensive. Contemporary basketry, while not perhaps reaching the standards of previous generations, at least in the opinion of collectors who are always going to be biased towards the antique, is still impressive in both technique and within its skill base.

Illustration: Apache girl with a burden basket, 1902.

There are a number of websites that deal specifically with Native American basketry, most being dealers and retailers of antique basketry, though they are relatively fluent and detailed in their knowledge and are worth visiting even if you find that you cannot afford the prices charged for antique basketry. A good place to start is the Medicine Man Gallery run by Dr Mark Sublette, where a comprehensive article on the history and forms of Apache basketry can be found. He has a beautiful and wide range of baskets for sale with a very impressive gallery.

Illustration: Apache basket.

I am also listing a range of websites that you might find interesting. They are sites dealing with some, but by no means all, of the large and diverse regions that make up the Apache nation. These include: Chiricahua, Yavapai/Apache, Jicarilla, White Mountain, Mescalero, Lipan, San Carlos. All in some way share in the great achievement of maintaining, through a whole range of political and cultural disasters, the traditional craft and skills base of the Apache nation.


pansypoo said...

sigh. i am glad i can't afford a new collection

Donna said...

Thank you so much for the basketry posts. I'm looking forward to the upcoming piece on Tule River basketry.

John hopper said...

Thanks for your comments. If I had any spare cash, which I don't, then I would be out buying Apache baskets tomorrow!

I am also glad Donna, that you are looking forward to the Tule River basketry article which should be turning up next week, with more basketry articles to follow over the coming weeks.

J.R. said...

I, too, am looking forward to your upcoming basketry articles. I'm a basket weaver, and I learn so much by studying Native American artistry. In fact, I was so inspired by Apache baskets that on my way to the wedding chapel, I stopped at the local trading post and purchased an Apache wedding basket. It's beautiful! The Chiricahua Apache are most known for these types of baskets. Mine is a wide shallow dish shape, and has images of a man and woman holding hands within a circle. I just love it!

John hopper said...

I have a number of future articles appearing in the coming weeks on Native American basketry, mostly dealing with those living in North America, but also hopefully some further south.

I am glad that you were inspired to buy an Apache basket. Hopefully by the time this series of articles has been going for a while, you might have quite a collection.