Northwest Coast Basketry – Woven Traditions
Northwest Coast Basketry—Woven Traditions
[AMBIENT FOREST SOUNDS AND BIRD CALLS]
[Short video clips cycle showing Ed Carriere picking up a branch from the forest floor surrounded by cedar trees, using a knife to peel some bark from a cedar limb, digging amongst tall grasses.]
ED CARRIERE (Suquamish Elder and Master Basket Weaver) [Voice Over]: I come from the Suquamish reservation. Suquamish Washington. A little town of Indianola.
[A black-and-white of Julia Jacobs, Ed Carriere’s great grandmother, appears.]
CARRIERE: My great grandma, she was the one that wove these really beautiful clam baskets for the tribal clam diggers.
[Ed harvests tall grasses, pulls strips of inner bark from a fallen cherry tree, uses a knife to peel away layers of bark, and folds up a thin strip of cherry bark.]
CARRIERE: And so I would watch her when I was little. When I got about 14 years old, I got brave enough to make my own clam basket. That led me into basket weaving.
[Ed cuts down tule plants from a marshy area and demonstrates separating the layers of the stalk.]
CARRIERE: It’s really satisfying to go out and, oh, cut tulles or cattails or go out and pick sweet grass.
[Back in Ed’s home, Ed prepares nettle fibers for making rope and splits a cedar limb.]
CARRIERE: If I collect it, I got to make something out of it, you know? I can’t just let it sit there, because it’s sitting there saying, hey, use me, use me. Make something out of me.
[MUSIC FADES UP]
[The American Museum of Natural History logo appears, followed by the title: Woven Traditions: Northwest Coast Basketry]
[A series of shelves in the Museum’s Anthropology collection are slid open, revealing many woven Northwest Coast baskets of different shapes and patterns.]
AMY TJIONG (Associate Conservator, Division of Anthropology): We have a lot of baskets in our collection.
[More shelves of Northwest Coast woven basketry reflect the diversity of materials and techniques used to create them.]
TJIONG: The plant materials themselves in these baskets, over time, they dry out, they become embrittled, and sometimes when we have to treat objects, it can get complicated.
[The Museum’s Northwest Coast Hall circa 2018 is shown with the caption “Northwest Coast Hall Before Renovation”]
TJIONG: The Northwest Coast Hall is over 100 years old…
[The hall is now shown in the midst of construction with empty cases and scaffolding, with the caption “Northwest Coast Hall During Renovation”]
TJIONG: …and I’m part of the team that is updating, restoring, and conserving the hall.
[Amy Tjiong sits in front of shelves of Northwest Coast basketry in the Museum’s Anthropology collection]
TJIONG: The conservation team has been tasked with conserving 800-plus objects.
[Museum conservators clean and conserve a variety of Northwest Coast collection pieces.]
TJIONG: That involves making sure that the objects are stable for display. It's really important to us to get input and guidance from the community members.
[A conservator uses a special vacuum hose and a brush to remove dust from Northwest Coast baskets.]
TJIONG: We were hoping to find somebody who would be able to tell us more about the materials that we see in these baskets and the technologies. We had reached out to our core advisors and Northwest Coast basketry scholars. Everybody said that we should reach out to Ed.
[Ed Carriere sits at a table laid out with his basketry and basket-making materials and tools in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology. He holds a large woven basket.]
CARRIERE: This clam basket…my specialty. What got me started in weaving.
[Photograph of Ed Carriere with staff members from the Division of Anthropology]
TJIONG: We invited Ed to visit the conservation lab…
[Photograph of Ed holding a cedar tree limb while giving a presentation to Museum staff.]
TJIONG: …for a working visit in 2018.
[Short clips cycle through of Ed holding and describing the variety of baskets and basket-making materials he brought to the Museum.]
TJIONG: He brought, I mean suitcases full of plant materials that he had harvested, and baskets that he had woven.
[Camera pans across four intricately woven Coast Salish baskets with distinct shapes and designs.]
TJIONG: And at the same time, he would have the opportunity to view objects from his area, the Coast Salish region, within the collection.
[Curator Peter Whiteley sits in front of a Northwest Coast house screen with baskets next to him in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology.]
PETER WHITELEY (Curator, Division of Anthropology): We have a great variety of baskets from people all up and down the coast.
[As he names each nation, an example of a basket from that culture appears on screen.]
WHITELEY: Haida, Tlingit, Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, from everywhere.
[A map of the Northwest Coast appears onscreen, color-coded to show the territories of the Native nations of that region.]
WHITELEY: But Coast Salish are distinctive.
[The map zooms in on the Coast Salish territory, which remains colorful while the rest of the map fades.]
WHITELEY: The symmetry of the designs, the complexity of the weaves, that's something that Coast Salish is especially known for.
[The camera slowly zooms in on several Coast Salish baskets, showing their intricacy.]
WHITELEY: Basketry, wooden boxes, those were people's containers.
[A Northwest Coast basket rotates in a circle, showing it to us from all angles.
WHITELEY: People in this part of the world didn't make pottery like they do in the native Southwest.
[Examples of Northwest Coast basketry from the Museum’s Anthropology collection.]
WHITELEY: And there are many different types of baskets for different purposes and with a very sophisticated technological knowledge that goes into them.
CARRIERE [Voice Over]: So there’s the clam basket.
[A large rectangular basket with a single handle on the top, with spaces between the warps and wefts.]
CARRIERE: And then the burden basket.
[A more tightly-woven basket with small handles on the sides and a rope around it that would have been used to put across one’s forehead while carrying it.]
CARRIERE: And then there’s the folded bark basket.
[A cylindrical-shaped basket visibly made from a large sheet of bark that has been folded at the bottom.]
CARRIERE: Then there was the hard-coiled cooking basket.
[Several examples of large, very tightly-woven baskets.]
CARRIERE: The weave is so tight that it forms a solid wood vessel, and so it would hold water, and then they could put foods in it and hang hot rocks in there and boil foods quickly in that type of a basket. Which I thought was incredible.
[Photograph of Ed’s Great Grandmother, Julia Jacobs, with several baskets she wove.]
CARRIERE: It was my goal to weave like my ancestors did.
[A series of photographs shows Ed examining baskets and woven pieces in the Museum’s collection, and talking to conservators about basket-weaving materials.]
CARRIERE: So I fulfilled that through archeology and through museums, and seeing these old pieces that are stored away.
TJIONG: But having him bring the harvested materials to the Museum, that's just one piece of a larger story.
[Fade to black.]
[WAVES GENTLY LAPPING]
[Fade up to clear blue water lapping against a rocky beach shore.]
TJIONG: There were many reasons for visiting Ed at his home.
[Leaves gently rustle in a lush forest with thick-trunked trees covered in moss.]
TJIONG: Many of our advisors have told us time and time again how important it was for us to visit the land where they came from.
[Cattails sway in the breeze. Water laps at the beach with dense forested islands in the distance.]
TJIONG: That we will never truly understand until, you know, we've breathed the air, until you know we've seen the landscapes.
[Ed leads Amy through tall grasses and brush.]
TJIONG: He took us he took us along the beach to a sandspit where we were able to harvest these grasses that were taller than us.
[Ed shows Amy some stalks of tule and cattail he just cut.]
CARRIERE [On Camera]: They’re a little fragile, but once you get ‘em woven, they’ll make a really pretty little basket.
TJIONG [Voice Over]: Into the forest where you had cherry trees and cedar trees growing.
[Ed shows Amy how he peels outer bark from inner bark on a strip cut from a cedar tree.]
CARRIERE [On Camera]: Now, when I make a folded bark basket, I use the whole thing.
TJIONG [Voice Over]: When it comes to the materials, we only see the finished product. Just getting to see these raw materials is helpful so that we're able to identify what we see in the baskets.
[Amy squeezes a freshly cut tule stalk in the sandspit.]
TJIONG [On Camera]: Oh wow, big difference.
[Amy and Ed harvest grasses and tall brush.]
TJIONG: He taught us how to distinguish between, you know, say for example like bear grass and swamp grass. And this isn't something that you would be able to do just by looking at a basket. You would really need to feel the length of the grass.
[Ed demonstrates splitting a cedar limb back at his home.]
TJIONG [Voice Over]: He taught us how to split the cedar limbs into several layers, each one that could be used for weaving.
[Amy splits a cedar limb with Ed’s guidance.]
CARRIERE [On Camera]: If it goes to one side, pull to the other side. Just kind of feel it out.
[Ed uses a knife to cut small twigs off of a long cedar branch.]
CARRIERE [Voice Over]: The difference between a basket maker and a basket weaver is a basket maker buys some of his fibers at the store…
[Ed creates nettle rope by crushing nettle plants, breaking them into thin fibers, and braiding them. He holds out the finished product in his hand.]
CARRIER: …but a basket weaver goes out and collects and splits and makes his own warps and wefts and his own fibers to weave the basket with. So there’s a difference there.
[Ed and Amy walk through the forest and harvest materials. Ed demonstrates various techniques of processing basket-making materials.]
TJIONG: Many of our advisors, including Ed, they have such a deep understanding of these materials and the technologies, more so than then we do as conservators. Just because, unless you've grown up with these materials at your doorstep, you know, these traditions are handed down to you through generations. It would only make sense that they've amassed this deep wealth of knowledge.
[Back at the Museum, Anthropology and Exhibitions staff, including Peter Whiteley, arrange baskets in a mock-up of the display that will be installed in the renovated Northwest Coast hall.]
WHITELEY [Voice Over]: As we think about how to display these baskets, we're really dependent upon the advice of our advisors, and they've offered a great deal of new information that we hadn't even been aware of previously.
[Transition from Peter looking at baskets in Museum mock-up display to Ed and Amy looking at Ed’s baskets in his home.]
WHITELEY: It’s essential to collaborate with First Nations communities, and artists, and scholars, and historians. You have to have those perspectives because that's where the knowledge is, that's where the understanding is.
CARRIERE [On Camera]: A basket tells the story of those people.
[Ed twists and braids fibers into rope.]
CARRIERE [Voice Over]: Even when I’m weaving one of those, I can actually feel my ancestors helping. I can feel them helping my fingers and my hands do the right move to weave with. So I really believe in that theory of through basketry we have a direct link to the past, to our ancestors way back.
[Wide shot of a field with Ed and Amy walking together in the distance.]
The American Museum of Natural History is updating, restoring, and conserving the historic Northwest Coast Hall, including more than 800 Northwest Coast collections pieces, in consultation with several Pacific Northwest Coast communities. Suquamish elder and master weaver Ed Carriere has traveled to the Museum to offer guidance on caring for woven baskets, and last summer, Associate Conservator Amy Tjiong headed to Washington State to learn about materials and techniques that will help the Museum care for the Northwest Coast baskets in its collections.