AMERICAN MASTERPIECES:
THE ARTISTIC LEGACY OF CALIFORNIA INDIAN BASKETRY

November 20, 2010 – February 27, 2011

Image: Maidu tray and twined Pomo bowl woven by Mary Knight Benson, State Parks Collection, Photos by John Palmer.

This exhibit, curated by basketry scholar Brian Bibby, was a joint project of the California Arts Council and California State Parks featuring rarely seen baskets from the collection of the California Indian Heritage Center.

California Indian basketry is one of the great textile traditions of the world, extending at least 5,000 years into the past. Encompassing remarkably diverse natural environments, nearly every Native community within the state excelled at basketry, creating a palette of distinct, regional weaving traditions – from the rainy redwood forests of the North Coast to the arid expanse of Death Valley.

Admired for its aesthetic merits, the role of basketry was born of necessity, rooted in a way of life that relied on baskets to collect, transport, process and store diverse food resources. Strong, durable, lightweight, and often watertight, Native baskets were perfected to suit local food collecting economies. Cooking, eating, winnowing seeds, sifting acorn flour, storing water, serving guests, cradling infants – all were done with baskets.

The astounding production, usefulness, innate beauty, boundless variety, and universal quality of Native baskets throughout California reveal masterful technique, botanical expertise, distinctive cultural traditions and personal artistic vision. They have become iconic of California Indian culture. They are vessels of delight. They are American Masterpieces.