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ALASKA BASKETRY 



BY 

V. V. GAVANA 





BANCROFT 
LIBRARY 



THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 





From the Collection of the Author 



Alaska Basketry 



BY 

V. V. CAVANA 




PRIVATELY PRINTED 

BY THE 

BEAVER CLUB OF OREGON 

PORTLAND, OREGON 

1917 



First Publication 



COPYRIGHT, 1917 
By the BEAVER CLUB OF OREGON 



One Hundred and Two Copies Printed This Copy is No.. 




DAVID STARR JORDAN, Honorary 

FREDERICK WOODWARD SKIFF 

CHARLES HARTSON LEADBETTER 

JOHN RAYMOND WESTERVELT 

JOHN FONERDEN WORCESTER 

DEAN COLLINS 

EDWARD SAMUEL REYNOLDS 

HOWARD VAUGHN FISHER 

GEORGE MARTIN ALLEN 

CHARLES SIMPSON WEST 

JOHN TYUS HOTCHKISS 

ROBERT AUDREY MILLER 



Introduction 

Declaring itself to the public through this, its first 
publication, the Beaver Club seeks to place itself in that 
group of idealists that not only believes in dreams, but 
also believes that by patient, sincere and reverent effort, 
dreams may be made to come true. 

There is a dream that many have held and toward 
the realization of which many have labored and it is the 
dream of a thing made glorious through the patient, per 
ceiving labor of those who produce it. To such a vision, 
and to the manifold works that have been done in the 
striving towards its realization, the world owes the most 
of whatever it can boast which is, beyond all else, rare 
and lovely and infinitely to be desired. 

In its present and future work, the Beaver Club hopes 
to add, from Oregon, from the Pacific Northwest, a dis 
tinctive and valuable contribution to humanity's store of 
things rare and beautiful and, as nearly as possible, per 
fect. The perfection sought is not the infinitely redupli 
cated perfection that comes through the infallible accuracy 
of machines, but the perfection that comes through con 
scious and zealous artistic effort of persons inspired by 
a desire to attain to a high and sweet ideal. 

The books of the Beaver Club possibly may never 
come to be loved and sought after because they are the 
most beautiful of their kind in the world; but the Beaver 
Club hopes to make them appreciatively beautiful to the 
world because their production is to the Club, above every 
thing else, a labor of profound love. 

It is in keeping with the spirit of the Club that its 
first publication should be Miss Cavana's monograph upon 
Alaska Indian basketry; for her studies in this subject 
have been quite as sincere a labor of love for her, as the 



labor we have undertaken in launching the series of rare 
publications of which this is the first. 

Miss Cavana went to Alaska in 1897 and lived for 
six years in the heart of the basket-producing districts, 
and during her life in Alaska she pursued a study of this 
art, then beginning to show only the first signs of dete 
rioration, at first hand among traders, officials, Indians, 
squaw men anywhere that information might be secured 
that would be of a valuable nature. 

Indian basketry, by the very nature of things, is 
slipping rapidly into the category of those arts whose 
products must have, besides their natural beauty, the 
added charm of growing rarity; and this brings the sub 
ject still more strikingly into harmony with the aims of 
the Beaver Club in bringing out this limited edition of 
its first publication. 

The spirit that has inspired the members of the Club 
has, we believe, been caught by the printers to whom the 
work was intrusted in its final stages, and they have given 
it the benefit of the most painstaking, sincere expression 
of their handicraft, of which they are capable. 

Other monographs that the Beaver Club will bring 
out in future may achieve something more pretentious in 
conception, arrangement or workmanship, but as they do 
so, we will feel that it is, in a measure, a development 
from the patient and serious effort that has been given 
to make this first publication as nearly perfect in its 
expression of our ideal as possible. 

There can be no keener feeling of the gratification that 
springs from an earnestly performed effort to produce 
something that will add to the things rare and beautiful 
in the world, than the feeling that the Beaver Club enjoys 
in being able now to witness to kindred spirits in the 
world, this, its first step toward the realization of the 
great dream of rare, of lovely, of perfect workmanship. 

THE CLUB EDITOR. 




From the Collection of the Author 




Alaska Basketry 

By V. V. Cavana 

ASKETRY is the oldest of the arts. 
There are ethnologists who claim this 
distinction for pottery, alleging that the 
first basket was an attempt to imitate 
in textile fabric the form of some crude 
specimen of the primitive potter's work. 
But basketry is far more ancient than the first basket. 
Its earlier manifestation would be, perhaps, some brush 
roughly intertwined to form a temporary shelter some 
strips of bark or grass twisted to make a needed cord 
a coarse mat to serve as a garment of sorts. The vessel 
we call a basket would be a later and much more advanced 
development of basketry. 

Possibly the truth, if we could prove it, would lie in 
the statement that basketry and pottery are twins, and 
that they grew, co-eval, out of primitive woman's adapta 
tion of her work to her environment. If she saw the track 
of some animal in wet clay, dried and sun-hardened, and 
capable of containing water, or if she found the moist 
earth beneath her fire burned to a stonelike solidity, per 
haps her brain would conceive and her hands execute a 
vessel of clay for her own domestic use. While, if grass 
was abundant, and trees and shrubs abounded in her sur 
roundings, the idea of the basket would inevitably grow, 
even through generations, and her fingers would labor to 
materialize it. 

Eleven 



At any rate, whether the one or the other is older, or 
whether they were co-existent according to environment, 
both these developments of woman's genius are prehistoric 
and universal. All of the past, and all of the earth's sur 
face, are the field for the student of them. But in the 
study of basketry, he will run upon the most serious diffi 
culties. It was, and still is, practiced by all primitive 
peoples; but they never were keepers of records, nor 
makers of any but the crudest pictures. Delicate, beauti 
ful, artistic in the highest degree their baskets may have 
been; but the drawings they made of them (prehistoric 
picture-writing and the like), are hideously crude. They 
left us no history of themselves, much less of their basketry. 
The basket itself is perishable, and civilization renders it 
obsolete. It vanishes, like the people who made it. 

But that it was made, we know from picture-writing 
on the rocks; from scraps miraculously preserved in the 
Mounds, in the cliff houses and caves of the Stone Age, in 
mummy chambers ; from the imprint of the fabric in frag 
ments of prehistoric pottery; and, after the dawn of 
history, from allusions here and there in the scanty records 
of contemporaneous civilization. 

The aboriginal inhabitants of North America, and 
particularly those on the Pacific Slope, have made baskets 
in infinite variety from the days of the unknown Mound 
Builders and the mysterious Cliff Dwellers and Aztecs. 
Those of the later centuries are mentioned in the writings 
of the missionary fathers and others of the earliest adven 
turers who followed the Conquest, and who had the interest 
to observe and the skill to record. Such mention is 
usually casual and brief, sometimes no more than an allu 
sion. In the midst of lives so strenuous, in which the 

Twelve 



struggle for mere existence from day to day was often 
cruel, and sometimes in vain, the native basketry was a 
negligible trifle. But that of the generations immediately 
preceding our own has been studied and described, usually 
by government scientists, so that for that period there is 
no lack of reliable material for the student. 

From Patagonia to Point Barrow, the native woman 
has always made her baskets. Every possible weave, and 
every available material appear. Soil and climate play 
their inexorable part, and racial characteristics write 
themselves legibly in the fabric. Odd diversities appear 
side by side, and odder similarities at enormous distances. 

No part of America offers greater variety, or greater 
excellence of workmanship, than Alaska. Its natives 
belong to four great families those of Athapascan stock 
in the interior, those of Eskimauan stock on the northern 
and western coasts, the various tribes of Southeastern 
Alaska, who are of the Koloschan family, and the Haidas 
of the south, who live only partly in Alaska and are of 
Skittagetan stock. But different tribal branches of the 
same stock often present marked ethnological differences, 
and in the matter of their basketry, have frequently little 
or nothing in common. For instance, the Aleut and the 
Eskimo are both of Eskimauan stock; yet they differ in 
appearance, disposition, intelligence, language and cus 
toms; and in basketry they have no common traits, the 
Eskimo producing a poor quality of coiled work, and the 
Aleuts the finest woven baskets in the world. Thus it 
is plain that a classification of Alaska basketry will differ 
somewhat in its subdivisions from an ethnological classi 
fication of the people who make the baskets. It is with 
the former that this text deals briefly. 

Thirteen 



Alaska basketry includes both of the great types, 
woven and coiled. But in numbers, and also in beauty, 
the woven baskets far exceed the coiled variety. More 
over, as tourists visit only Southeastern Alaska, and 
there see only the woven spruce root native to the region, 
with a few of the grass baskets, also woven, from the 
Aleutian Islands, these two varieties are usually supposed 
to comprise all of Alaska basketry. 

It should be remembered that trade, intermarriage 
and migration have rendered the geographical demarca 
tions between the several varieties somewhat vague; but 
in a general way, beginning at the extreme southeast of 
the territory, the various sorts are produced as follows: 

Locality Race Type Material 

1. Southeastern Alaska Haida woven cedar bark, spruce and cedar 

root 

2. Southeastern Alaska Tlingit woven spruce root 

3. Aleutian Islands Aleuts woven wild rye grass 

4. Bristol Bay and 

Kuskokwim River Eskimo woven wild rye grass 

5. Norton Sound and 

Arctic Ocean Eskimo coiled grass or willow 

6. Upper Yukon River Tinne coiled spruce and tamarack root, 

willow 

7. Lower Yukon Tinn< both spruce root, willow, grass 

1. Haidas. Following this grouping, the first bas 
kets encountered will be those of the Haidas, who live 
partly in British Columbia and partly in Alaska, in a 
coast and island region of magnificent cedar and spruce 
forests. From these splendid trees they secure the 
materials to produce three distinct varieties of woven 
basket. The cedar furnishes an inner bark, which, after 
proper manipulation and seasoning, gives long flat brown 
papery strips. These the Haida women weave in flat 
checkerwork into soft mats, bags and baskets. By cross 
ing and diverting the elements traveling in one direc- 

Fourteen 




From the Collection of the Author 



tion of the weave, they produce a very pretty openwork 
variant of the checkerwork method; and certain slight 
changes in the handling of the strips give a twilled effect 
that may be repeated at intervals with pleasing results. 

Iron stain, copper stain and alder stain will produce 
respectively black, green and red; and strips thus stained, 
introduced at intervals, furnish color decoration. 

From the peoples to the south, they have learned to 
use the wrapped twined weave, which is native to the 
northern part of Vancouver Island, but which has been 
adopted all along the coast from Oregon to Prince of 
Wales Island. In this latter region, the Haidas make 
frequent use of it for small baskets intended for light 
use, or for ornamental purposes. It consists of a series 
of upright warp elements with two woof elements travel 
ing around the fabric horizontally, as in the case of the 
plain twined weave. But in the wrapped twine, one of 
these woof elements remains always on the inside of the 
basket, while the other is wrapped around each warp and 
the inside woof where they lie together. The warp and 
the inside woof are of cedar bark, while the wrapping 
strand, covering the others entirely on the outside, is 
usually of squaw grass. This produces, if the grass is 
properly cured, a fine ivory-colored mosaic effect that is 
really very pretty, even in the cruder pieces. There used 
to be a weaver or two among the remnant of the Haidas, 
who carried these baskets to an extreme of beauty and 
delicacy; and I have in mind a little round, covered 
treasure-basket, about three inches in diameter, from the 
region immediately south of Ketchikan, that shows a 
thousand and fifty stitches to the square inch of its 
exquisite fabric. 

Sixteen 



So much for the two varieties made from cedar. 
From the spruce they gather and prepare the root, pre 
cisely in the Tlingit manner, of which I shall speak 
presently, and weave water-tight vessels in the close plain 
twined weave. By using a stronger, coarser fiber than 
the Tlingit ordinarily do, they produce a heavier, more 
rigid basket. It is also from spruce root, in a finer 
fiber, and an ornamental variant of the plain twine, that 
they weave the famous Haida hats, beloved of basket 
collectors. These hats are splendid specimens of bas 
ketry, made from selected root by the best weavers, in 
a certain prescribed manner, the description of which 
would entail too much detail for the purposes of this writ 
ing. They are graceful in shape, perfect in line and 
finish. Color was not inwoven, but was painted on the 
surface in totemic design the only example, by the way, 
of totemic design in color in this basketry. Like many 
other splendid types, they are no longer made, and the 
searcher for them must go to old collections. 

2. Tlinget. The work of the Haidas being thus 
sketchily treated, a brief account of the processes of the 
Tlingits is next in order. They are the group placed 
second in the table, and they comprise a number of 
tribes, with all their numerous clans and minor divisions, 
inhabiting the coast to the north and then to the west of 
the Haida country. They were the superlative basket- 
makers of Alaska; for while the next division mentioned, 
the Aleuts, produced some pieces of almost unbelievable 
fineness, it must be borne in mind that they worked in 
a more tractable material grass. The Tlingits prob 
ably wove more baskets than all the other Alaskans 
combined; and their excellence was recognized by those 

Seventeen 



most severe critics, the Alaskans themselves; for Tlingit 
baskets were articles of barter with remote tribes, before 
the presence of increasing numbers of white people had 
given a larger market, with its attendant evils. 

The Tlingit woman shaped her basket definitely for 
its intended use, and employed the technique (of which 
she practiced five forms) prescribed by tradition for that 
especial purpose. Thus was produced an amazingly 
interesting variety, from the tiny shot-pouch and the 
dainty covered treasure-basket, to the yard-wide berry- 
tray, and the huge twenty-five-gallon oil- storage basket. 
Perfection of workmanship was characteristic of these 
women. Even the big water-tight oil baskets were as 
smooth in texture as a piece of cloth, perfectly sym 
metrical in shape, bordered at the top with one or 
another of the recognized designs for the purpose, and 
finished off with wonderful precision in one of several 
styles. The border might be merely one or two bands 
of color (red, black or purple), or it might be, and in 
the case of the Chilkats was sure to be, a geometric 
design without color, effected in a raised pattern by a 
slight change in the stitch. These big baskets were 
woven of so fine a fiber that a square inch on the sur 
face of them will sometimes contain one hundred stitches ; 
and their texture is so flexible that when not in use, they 
may be folded flat like a paper bag to be laid aside until 
needed. 

Even in excellence there are degrees; and among the 
Tlingits, the Chilkats and the Yakutats were the best 
weavers. But a good basket is not a matter of skillful 
weaving only. The selection and preparation of the mate 
rials was a slow and laborious process. The Tlingit women, 

Eighteen 




From the Collection of the Author 



according to Emmons, selected a spruce tree in healthy 
condition, from one to two feet in diameter, and pros 
pected with a fire-hardened stick for the far-reaching 
growth of new root. When found, this was carefully dug 
out with the hands and the stick, sometimes in lengths as 
great as twenty feet, and in thickness about the size of the 
little finger. These lengths were coiled and carried home, 
and inside of a day must be barked, which was done by 
steaming over coals, or in mud under a bed of coals, and 
then drawing the strip between the tines of a cleft stick. 
This process required judgment and skill, as too much, 
too little, or too dry heat were all fatal to the quality of the 
cured fiber; and too little pressure on the tines of the 
"eena" failed to remove the bark, while too much pressure 
injured the surface and destroyed the prized lustre of the 
outer wood. 

After removing the bark, the women coiled the root 
again and left it to season. The gathering was done in the 
spring, and the wood seasoned during the summer months, 
when the demands of berrying, fishing, and other forms of 
food collecting and storage, were imperative. In the dull 
winter days, the root was split and the basket woven. The 
commercial demand for Tlingit baskets is brisk and not 
discriminating, and the habits of the natives have changed 
considerably since the influx of the white people. Conse 
quently, weaving is now carried on at all seasons, so that as 
many baskets as possible may be made for sale. This of 
course cuts out the long period of seasoning for the wood, 
which explains one form of deterioration in the baskets 
of the last fifteen years or so. But formerly, when there 
was time for all things in order, the weaving was a winter 
occupation. The coils were soaked, and then split with 

Twenty 



teeth, thumb-nail, and a sharp shell. Three qualities of 
fiber resulted, of which the outside was the toughest and 
glossiest, and therefore the best, and the inside, or heart, 
was too pithy for use, and was thrown away. Needless 
to say, the entire work, from beginning to end, required 
patience, strength, judgment, skill all those qualities 
that make good work anywhere in the world. 

The split root must be soaked again before weaving, 
during which it was kept damp by moistening the fingers 
occasionally. The work began at what was to be the 
center of the bottom, in the following manner: Several 
strands of the correct estimated length for the basket in 
view were caught together at the middle by a half hitch 
of another strand, to be used as woof. The warp splints 
were then spread open, as the radii of a circle, and the 
woof strand twined in and out among them for a few 
rounds, thus forming a tiny circle. New warp must 
then be introduced between the strands of that already 
in use. This was done by folding the new strand at 
the middle, and catching the loop over the turn of the 
inside woof element, and then working the new strands 
into the fabric on the next round. Examination of the 
bottom of any good basket makes this plain, although 
the explanation sounds a trifle complicated. 

As the close plain twined weave (wush-tookh-ar-kee, 
close together work,) is the necessary foundation for the 
characteristic Tlingit form of decoration, its technique 
should be understood. After the circular (or, very rarely, 
oval,) base has been completed, and the upright walls 
are beginning, numerous warp elements stand up like 
a stiff fringe around the circumference of the basket, and 
two woof elements are twined in and out, over and under 

T wen ty-on e 



each warp element. As each woof strand comes to the 
outside, it takes a half turn over the other woof strand, 
between warps, always in the same direction; so that the 
two woof strands, if they could be seen without the warp, 
would form a twisted cord of perfect regularity. In 
fact, this can be seen sometimes, in case of a break in 
the fabric, which allows the warp to slip out, leaving the 
cord of the woof plainly visible. It often occurs in the 
delicate grass baskets of the Aleuts, who use precisely 
the same stitch. This weave produces a flexible water 
tight vessel, which, as said before, may be folded like a 
paper bag when not in use. 

For baskets in which no colored decoration was in 
tended, such as the cooking baskets and the storage 
baskets, a weave called khark-ghee-sut (translated by 
Emmons as "between, or in the middle of/') was used. 
It consisted of alternating rows of the plain twine and 
the checkerwork, and therefore effected a saving of one- 
fourth of the woof material. Thus, one round of the 
work would consist of the upright warp, with two woof 
strands twining over them; the next round would con 
sist of only one woof strand passing over and under the 
warp; the third round would be a repetition of the first, 
and the fourth would be a repetition of the second* This 
weave was water-tight, and was frequently used in the 
bottoms of baskets of all kinds, except by the Yakutats. 
In new pieces, it appears rather rough and crude; but 
in the splendid old relics of a vanished age, the rows of 
twined work were forced down so closely together that 
the intervening one-strand row can barely be discerned. 

In some vessels, such as those used for draining the 
water out of some kinds of food, an openwork effect 

Twenty-two 




V 



From the Collection of the Author 



was desirable, and in others it was used for ornament. 
Again, if a water-tight basket was not necessary, the 
openwork saved an appreciable quantity of material. 
The Tlingit used such a weave, calling it wark-kus- 
khart, or eyeholes, and obtained it by diverting the warp. 
Every other warp element was deflected to the right, 
the alternate ones turning to the left. This caused the 
warp to cross continually, like lattice work, at an angle 
of about forty-five degrees. At each crossing, the warp 
elements were caught by the two woof elements of the 
plain twine. The result was an open fabric, diagonal 
warp, horizontal rows of woof, and hexagonal mesh. 
The Haidas, as noted before, got much the same effect 
in their one-strand woof. 

A fourth style of technique in practice by the Tlingits 
was hiktch-hee-har-see, which required the same elements 
as the plain twine. But the two woof strands inclosed 
two warps at each turn, instead of one, and on the next 
round of the work, split these pairs, inclosing two as 
before, but not the same two. This work, like the plain 
twine, presents the same appearance on the wrong side 
as on the right. It produced a raised diagonal or twilled 
effect, and by manipulating it in connection with the 
plain twine, geometrical patterns were obtained in the 
fabric. The function of this weave was that of orna 
ment. It appears in the borders of the Chilkat storage 
baskets, and on the brims of the Haida hats. 

Uh-tahk-ka (twisted) was a three-strand weave, 
that is, it required three woof strands. Each passed 
back of one warp, and then over two warps. In work 
ing, it showed two woofs on the outside of the fabric at 
all times, and one on the inside; and when completed, 

Twenty-four 



it presented a raised cord on the right side, while the 
wrong side of the work showed no trace of it. It was 
both strong and highly ornamental, and was usually 
introduced at points in the work where the heaviest 
strain of use would fall, such as the base of the walls 
of the basket, and the top. Alternate rows of it pro 
duced a corded border that was very handsome. The 
hat crowns offer the only examples of its use for the 
entire fabric. 

These are the five weaves practiced by Tlingit weav 
ers. The strawberry weave of which we sometimes hear 
is merely plain twine, with one of the woof strands 
colored. This brings the color to the outside in alternate 
stitches, and so produces a spotted effect, like the seeded 
surface of the wild strawberry. It was used in bands 
for decorative effect, and was especially characteristic of 
certain forms of basket, such as the large berry tray. 
Also, it often appeared in the bottoms of other baskets. 

One of the most interesting features of the Tlingit 
basket is the finish at the top. When the desired height 
had been attained, some neat and secure method of fast 
ening off the work was a necessity, both for beauty and 
for strength. Lieutenant Emmons, in his researches in 
this basketry, classified such methods in twelve forms. 
The simplest was the case of the low covered basket, for 
which a lid was woven to fit exactly over the top, and 
in the use of which no particular strain was put upon 
the rim. Here the weaver simply stopped the work and 
cut off the warp close to the last row of woof, often 
using a few rows of khark-ghee-sut at the end. In this 
way she secured a flat surface in both lid and basket, 
insuring a neater fit than might otherwise have been 

Twenty- five 



possible. The Haida hat also, for obvious reasons, was 
finished by merely clipping the warp. But any basket 
intended to carry burdens needed a stronger finish. The 
plainest of these was made by turning down the end of 
each warp element, and weaving it under the next turn 
of the woof strands, on the inside of the basket. When 
the round was completed, the woof was fastened off, and 
the warp ends clipped close. This produced a sort of 
selvage edge, strong enough for all ordinary purposes, 
and very neat. If the basket was designed for very 
hard service, and greater strength was needed, one or 
more extra strands of woof were introduced, and the warp 
ends were involved in a three- or four-strand braided fin 
ish. The Chilkat cooking and storage baskets always 
had a four-strand braided finish, complicated in execu 
tion, but unsurpassed for wearing qualities. Some of 
the baskets made from Sitka west to Yakut at Bay had 
a perfectly marvelous four-strand finish, not braided, but 
woven more like the uh-tah-ka, as round and smooth as a 
piece of wire, with not a warp end visible. One marked 
difference between the old and the new baskets is the 
lack, in even the best of the new work, of this skillfully 
executed finish at the top. 

Colored ornamentation in this basketry was very 
beautiful, in method, design and color. Grass for the 
purpose was gathered in the early summer, before it was 
ripe, dipped in boiling water, and spread out in the shade 
for slow drying. Several varieties were used, according 
to the supply available in the locality. Emmons says 
that panicularia nervata was most esteemed, and was 
never dyed, being highly prized for its glossy rich ivory 
color, and being a recognized article of commerce, as it 
grew only in certain places. 

Tw en ty- s ix 




From the Collection of the Author 



In applying grass to form decorative designs, the 
weaver wrapped it around the outside woof element 
only. Thus, it did not pass back of the warp, and was 
consequently not to be seen on the inside of the basket. 
Emmons's term "false embroidery" seems to be as good 
as any other to designate this particular form of orna 
mentation, and is used in these descriptions; but it must 
be remembered that it is a wrapping of the decorative 
element around the outside woof strand only, in the 
course of the weaving, and is done with the fingers, no 
needle or other tool being used, and the decoration pro 
ceeding stitch by stitch with the structure of the basket. 

The decorative designs used in Tlingit basketry were 
not symbolic or totemic. This is positive. They were 
pictorial, representing natural objects so highly conven 
tionalized as to be impossible of recognition unless a clew 
to the meaning was available. Moreover, they most fre 
quently represented, not the object or animal itself, but 
some characteristic, quality or result of it. For instance, 
the several butterfly motifs do not represent the insect, 
but either the markings on its wings, or the wavering 
line of its flight; and the wave motif of the Yakutat 
does not represent the wave itself, but the line of the 
foam and drift that it leaves on a sandy beach as it 
recedes. 

Tlingit designs were handed down from generation 
to generation of weavers, and used with slight variations 
to suit the personal taste of the maker, or to fit the 
space upon which they were applied. Emphatically, 
realistic designs have no place in this basketry, except in 
the case of the Shaman's hat; nor have totemic or sym 
bolic figures. Tlingit carving, painting and blanket- 

Twenty-eight 



weaving were all symbolic, and all in totemic or realistic 
design, but not Tlingit basketry. Any such designs 
used on the new baskets are the result of contact with 
the white people regrettable imitations of something 
seen among them, or the result of suggestions from 
traders and tourists. As a case in point, the symbolic 
figure known as the swastika, which has a significance 
among primitive peoples as widely separated on the sur 
face of the globe as India and Arizona, has no place 
whatever in Alaska design nor in that of British Colum 
bia. Yet it is now very commonly seen on the baskets 
of both regions. In Southeastern Alaska, it is the result 
of the suggestion of a certain dealer, who presented his 
native friends with a copy of the figure, and urged the 
weavers to adopt it. Also, about ten years ago, many 
baskets began to appear upon which realistic figures of 
the raven, the whale, the crow, etc., were used, instead of 
the beautiful old conventional traditional Tlingit designs. 
These seemed to appeal to the tourist as being very 
characteristic, and were freely purchased. So that many 
of them are now woven. They may be thoroughly good 
baskets in other respects, and the discriminating buyer 
will sometimes purchase them for the sake of their un 
doubted qualities in those other lines; but he will alwiays 
be entirely aware that the decoration is spurious. 

Nor was realism in color attempted. The native 
means of producing color limited the range, and any 
pleasing combination was used with any design. Such 
color as they had, was charming. To begin with, they 
had the beautiful ivory of the cured but undyed grass, 
and the glossy brown or purple of the stems of the 
maidenhair fern; and these two in combination, applied 

Twenty-nine 



with true Tlingit art to the seasoned wood-color of a 
good basket, would win a delighted approbation from 
any lover of beauty and skill in craftsmanship. Huckle 
berry juice was much used. It gave a good purple, and 
they dipped both grass and root into it, and often the 
fern stems too, because their natural color varies a good 
deal. There are mineral springs in the region, and by 
boiling their material in the water or by burying it in 
the hot mud, they secured a black or brown. A certain 
coppery-looking blue or green is said to have been just 
what it looks like copper stain; and a fur trader once 
told me that an orange tone I admired in a basket- 
maker's tray was obtained from a clay deposit back in 
the country. Of these two I cannot speak positively. 
But a most pleasing yellow is known to have been a 
decoction of wolf moss; and alder wood and bark 
steeped in a certain primitive mordant, gave most beauti 
ful and permanent shades of red. Hemlock bark will 
give a black stain. These are the colors of the old bas 
ketry; and to the lover of rich color, they will appeal 
as no modern improvements upon them can do. 

The Tlingit woman seldom applied her decoration 
directly upon the natural wood-color of the basket. She 
preferred to make a background for it. This she did by 
using dyed root for the woof strands while applying the 
embroidered design. So that, when finished, the bright 
design in grass stood out upon a dark, sometimes a 
striped, band, edged at top and bottom with a single 
row of contrasting color. As before stated, the manner 
of applying the so-called embroidery is such that it is all 
on the outer surface of the work, and does not appear 
on the inside of the basket. But the background band, 

Thirty 



being the woof itself, of course shows as plainly on the 
inside as on the outside. 

In speaking of color, something must be said of ani 
line dye. A druggist who was in business in Juneau 
from 1888 to 1892, years before the day of the Klon- 
diker or the tourist, has told me that he always kept in 
stock, for the use of the native women, plenty of Dia 
mond Dyes, and that he was in the habit of selling 
them in lots of two or three dozen packages at a time, 
to natives from as far west as the Copper River Country. 
One package of this dye would come near to giving all 
of its particular color that could be needed for the deco 
ration of the season's entire community output of baskets ; 
and the increased range of color interested and pleased 
the women, especially the younger ones. Besides, this 
ready-to-use and easily-applied dye eliminated the slow 
and laborious methods of the ancient ways, and was 
therefore doubly welcome. This is merely a manifesta 
tion of never-changing human nature. The women of 
early New England spun the yarn of which they knit 
the family stockings; their great-granddaughters bought 
the yarn by the skein; and their descendants of to-day 
buy the stockings outright. Under similar influences, 
this development will occur in any environment, so that 
there is no occasion for surprise in the universal use of 
aniline dyes in basketry. It is one thing that makes the 
old baskets so precious. Some of the dealers of to-day 
are trying to induce the weavers whose wares they han 
dle to make baskets with little or no dye, using the ivory 
grass and the brown fern stem, and perhaps some huckle 
berry or alder stained strands. Such pieces, if well made, 
are highly desirable. 

Thirty-one 



Furthermore, the fact that a basket is colored with 
aniline is in itself no sufficient reason for discarding it, 
if it is otherwise all that it should be. Some very excel 
lent work is dyed with aniline, and, unless the basket is 
very old, it is often difficult to be sure of the nature of 
the coloring, if the maker has been artistic enough to 
stick to the characteristic Tlingit range. But above 
everything, the collector desires to know the truth about 
his specimens. 

The use of the word truth suggests some pessimistic 
reflections about the difficulty of getting at it in regard 
to Alaska basketry. It has seemed to me, after twenty- 
odd years of interest in the subject, that few persons 
know anything at all about it. Many who are well- 
informed in regard to the basketry of other regions, 
have little or no knowledge of the Alaska branch of 
the art, and, furthermore, often appear unwilling to 
admit this. It is not strange that the work is not as 
well understood as that of other parts of our country- 
there is good reason for it; but it is strange that sensible 
people should so often pretend to a knowledge they do 
not possess. 

3. Aleut. Aleut basketry, the third of the great 
divisions of the subject, is the product of the stormy, 
foggy, sunless chain of islands stretching from the end 
of the Alaska Peninsula to a point far over in the east 
ern hemisphere, near to Asia, and nearly two thousand 
miles west of Yakutat. It is a region of terrific isola 
tion, which travelers never reach. The Nome passen 
ger steamers, stopping at Unalaska, form the nearest 
approach of travel to the westward reaches of the Aleu 
tian Chain. Once a year an island trader's schooner 

Thirty-two 




From the Collection of the Author 



visits them, carrying needed supplies, and bringing away 
furs and the year's output of baskets, except such as 
they keep for their friends of the revenue cutter which 
makes its annual call soon after. (Porter.) 

Primitive man makes use of the means at hand. No 
timber of any sort, but abundant wild rye grass, grows 
upon these islands. Hence, grass is the material of their 
basketry. It is all flexible, and the grass is often split 
to such extreme fineness that the resulting basket will 
not hold its sides upright. The women gather it with 
care, searching far for the best growth, like all good 
weavers, selecting only the two or three choice leaves 
on the plant, and curing them slowly in the shade of 
their houses. By gathering earlier or later, and curing 
in varying degrees of dampness and shade (there is little 
else!) they obtain delicate variations in the color of the 
cured strands, which they use most effectively in the warp 
of some of the work. The usual shades are a pale golden 
straw-color, and a faint tealeaf green. Sometimes, in 
decoration where its brittleness will not affect the strength 
of the basket, they use an almost white strand, plucked 
very late, after it had ripened on its root. 

Their weaving, with one isolated exception, is all done 
in variations of the plain twine, but they make several 
distinct types of basket, with recognizable local charac 
teristics. The grass is very long and very soft, and the 
warp will not, of course, stand upright in weaving, as 
the Tlingit spruce root will. Therefore the Aleut weaver 
suspends her basket, bottom upward, and weaves deftly 
among the thick, long, soft fringe of warp depending 
from it. The work is done in the dark winter, in the 

Th irty-four 



dim, close interior of half underground hovels. Yet some 
of it has no peer in basketry. 

Their decorative materials consisted, before the intro 
duction of silk, of the previously mentioned variations in 
the color of their working straw, of eagle down, which 
they applied but scantily, of hair, of skin, and of grass 
dyed with native substances. There were no brilliant 
feathers available for them, as for some of the southern 
weavers. In their sad, bleak little scraps of volcanic 
islands, nothing is brilliant but the evanescent spring 
flowers that bloom on the sod tops of their huts for a 
brief season. Their dye materials were extremely lim 
ited, and, from all accounts, rather dull in effect. 

In technique, their decoration is very similar to that 
of the Tlingit, but more varied. They often use exactly 
the same false embroidery, but they lay their designs 
directly upon the uncolored grass of the basket, not using 
the colored band for a background, as the Tlingit do. 
In the tiny "cigarette cases" they frequently use the col 
ored material for woof, but in that case, it constitutes a 
part of the design itself. This involves a constant carry 
ing along on the wrong side of the filaments not then in 
use for the design, and adds one more to the complica 
tions of this amazing textile art. In the larger baskets, 
they use wool in colors, sometimes in the false embroid 
ery, but more often as follows: A strand of the wool 
is caught under the outside woof element, and is then 
reversed in direction and caught under the next woof 
element, the loop being pulled tight. Both ends are then 
cut short. This makes a tiny figure like a U upside 
down, and is repeated until the portion of the design 
which lies on that round of the work has been^accom- 

Thirty-f ive 



plished. When the basket is finished, the design is com 
posed of these tiny tight loops and their short clipped 
ends, and therefore has a fuzzy appearance. For bands 
running around the basket, they do not clip the wool, 
but catch it under each turn of the woof, first up, then 
down, then up again, giving a continuous wavy line. 
Often these bands of ornamentation are complex, con 
sisting of a central line of colored grass, perhaps an 
eighth of an inch in width (very wide for this work) 
used in checkerwork weave, with a waving line of wool 
on each side. , 

Their designs are no more symbolic than those of the 
Tlingit. Of late years, they mean nothing. But the old 
specimens show forms that strongly suggest convention 
alized insect, bird and flower forms, or lines of flight, 
or of water disturbance, such as the wake of swimming 
creatures. These are exactly the things that the Aleut 
woman would see all her life, and undoubtedly it was 
from these sources that she first drew her decorative 
inspirations. But I have never been able, so far, to get 
any reliable information about it. Mr. Porcher, the au 
thor of by far the best article on this basketry that I 
have ever seen, and who is freely quoted by Dr. Mason, 
does not enter into the matter at all. 

The colored design may be near the top, in a well- 
defined band, with line borders, or it may consist of a 
more or less close arrangement of figures over the entire 
surface. Some, of the old specimens of large covered 
Atka basket with slightly convex walls, were practically 
entirely covered with geometrical figures in perfectly 
symmetrical arrangement, the size of which diminished 
above and below the center, in a beautiful perspective 

Thirty-six 




From the Collection of the Author 



that brings to mind the designs of the famous Nevada 
weaver, Datsolalee. But Datsolalee's work is coiled over 
heavy foundations, and is rigid; while this of the Atka 
women is woven, is flexible, and is of an extremely fine 
and threadlike texture. 

These Aleut baskets are sometimes finished at the 
top by means of the turned down warp inwoven in the 
course of the work, exactly like some of those of the 
Tlingit, so minutely classified by Emmons; and some 
times by gathering the long warp in small braids, and 
then plaiting these small ones into a heavy ropelike braid 
running along the top in scallops, through which the 
grass cord can be drawn for convenience in carrying 
weight. 

In all the Aleutian Chain, there are, according to Mr. 
Porcher, only eight villages of any size. Five of them, 
including Unalaska, are on Unalaska Island. Here the 
natives are of course subjected to considerable white 
influence, and the quality of their basketry has suffered 
accordingly. Combinations of the weaves and designs of 
the whole island and of the other islands occur, so that 
there is no longer a distinct type. But they seem to favor 
two forms rather strongly: one the small covered basket, 
cylindrical in shape, dimensions probably about six by 
six, weave either close plain twine, or crossed warp open 
work, rather poorly made; and second, the large open 
top basket in plain twine, of rather coarse fiber, with 
the warp standing close, and the rows of woof running 
about half an inch apart. Both these types show colored 
ornamentation. 

The next large island to the west is Umnak, with its 
village of Nikolski, where most of the work is heavy and 

Thirty-eight 



coarse in texture. Porcher mentions a peculiar type that 
was occasionally found here and nowhere else a flaring 
open basket, beginning with a well-made base in unsplit 
grass, the warp of which was split and re-split as the 
sides rose, and woof of corresponding gauge introduced. 
Thus the work, beginning with a coarse fiber at the bot 
tom, grew finer and finer as the work advanced, till the 
top was an extremely fine close weave, finished by braid 
ing off the warp. 

Westward another two hundred miles or so lies Atka 
Island, with its village of Atka, and in this place the 
white influence is less baleful. The Atka burden-basket, 
the heaviest of all Aleutian work, is the only example of 
the wrapped twined weave to be found in the islands. Its 
development in this region differs from that among the 
Haidas. In the first place, the fabric is openwork. 
Next, all the elements are of the same material. Then, 
the woof element which lies horizontally along the warp 
is on the outside, while the wrapping element is inside 
the basket. Last, the wrapping element does not take 
a diagonal turn about both the warp and the other woof, 
as in the case of the Makah work, but merely reaches 
out between the warp elements and loops around the other 
woof, then passes back of the warp and out through the 
next space, catching the woof, and so on. It is a very 
simple stitch in comparison with the Makah and Haida 
development of it, and well suited to the material, and 
the purpose for which it is used. Another typical basket 
of Atka is the splendid barrel-shaped, covered specimen, 
decorated over its entire surface, which has been men 
tioned before. The warp is straight, separated very 
slightly, and the woof rows of plain twine run about 

Thirty-nine 



their own width apart. The fabric is therefore a very 
fine openwork, with a rectangular mesh, and the basket 
is one of the most beautiful examples of Aleut work. 
Here also is found the delightful little cylindrical cov 
ered basket in close plain twine, water-tight, daintily 
decorated, extremely beautiful and delicate. 

Far over in the eastern longitudes, five hundred miles 
beyond Atka, lies the end of the Chain, Attu. Attu, the 
home of the most exquisite basketry in the world! Here 
the acme of daintiness is reached. Aside from baskets 
designed for the very roughest, heaviest work, two char 
acteristic types prevail, a large open basket, and the tiny 
"cigarette case.'" The large sort will be eleven or so 
inches in height and diameter, made of grass split to 
extreme fineness. The weave is plain twine, in crossed 
or diverted warp, which is frequently of two shades of 
grass, presenting faint vertical stripes in the fabric. 
The woof rows will be not more than an eighth of an 
inch apart, and the grass strands are sometimes a thirty- 
second of an inch in diameter, so that the whole big basket 
is like a piece of lace, and will not hold its sides upright 
and apart. During the process of weaving the maker 
introduces, along with the warp, on two opposite sides 
of the basket, two or three firmly twisted cords of the 
grass. These are very fine probably about a sixteenth 
of an inch in diameter but tight and strong; and she 
weaves them in as warp all the way up. The braided 
loop finish before described belongs with this type, and 
in making it, the weaver begins her braiding at one of 
these reinforced points. When she has finished her plait 
ing all the way around the top, and is back at the place 
of beginning, she continues the braid to make a heavy 

Forty 



cord, perhaps thirty inches long and as thick as her little 
finger. The end is knotted and left free. When the 
basket is in use, (and in their natural environment these 
delicate lacelike creations will safely carry thirty pounds 
of fish,) the free end of the cord is run through the loop 
at the other reinforced point, and the weight is swung 
over the shoulder. This type is decorated by means of 
a broad band of geometrical figures around the top, done 
in colored wool, with very frequently some touches of 
snow-white sculpin skin by way of accent. 

The wonderful "cigarette case" is really two tiny 
baskets. They are woven in cylindrical form over two 
pieces of wood, one a shade smaller than the other, and 
when completed are slipped off, folded flat, and tele 
scoped. The entire world of basketry (and that means 
the terrestrial globe, as basketry is a universal art,) 
offers nothing that is superior, and little if anything that 
is equal to them. It should be remembered that they 
are made from the coarse wild beach rye, maniplated by 
human fingers only. If any tool enters into their con 
struction, it is a knife-blade to split the grass, and even 
that is doubtful. Probably a thumbnail does the work. 
Yet the grass is split with absolute regularity, to such 
fineness that the weaving will show from thirty to fifty 
stitches on one inch of a row, and this means upwards 
of two thousand stitches per square inch. 

Folded, their dimensions will be something like two 
and three-quarters inches by four, though I have seen 
the coarser ones larger. The weave is close plain twine, 
and the exquisite circular base is a thing to marvel at. 
It generally shows a few rows of crossed warp openwork, 
looking like fine hemstitching in a piece of pongee. If 

Forty-one 



the decorations are to consist of circular bands around 
the basket, as they often do, single rows of this openwork 
will be introduced at harmonious intervals in the walls. 
Sometimes these colored bands are made by the use of 
silk as woof, with microscopic dots of false embroidery 
in white sculpin skin. Sometimes the designs are geor 
metrical figures in regular arrangement, either false 
embroidery or a development of the woof. When it is 
remembered that the grass woof and the silk woof must 
for much of the work be carried along together on the 
wrong side, and that the perfect execution, a row at a 
time, of a repeating design, is a complicated matter, one 
marvels more and more at these little baskets. They 
cannot be said to have any utilitarian purpose at the 
present time, but their qualities of workmanship furnish 
sufficient excuse for their being. The demand for them 
created by the communication with the world established 
by the cutters so long ago, is said to have improved the 
weave for a time a condition which frequently obtains 
on the first contact of primitive weavers with a market 
for their wares, but which invariably holds only up to a 
certain point, after which the inevitable commercial dete 
rioration sets in. The larger baskets of this group, as 
well as those of the other groups, photograph very well; 
but no photograph of a first-class specimen of this type 
ever conveys any adequate idea of its charm. For one 
reason, age, and a careful selection and curing of the 
material in the first place, give them a lovely pale but 
warm golden color that is a delight to the eye; and for 
another, only a minute inspection of the dainty little 
object itself will reveal the perfection of its finish. 

Forty-two 



Of the age of individual baskets of the Tlingit and 
Aleut divisions, an estimate is usually all that can be 
offered, based upon known characteristics and develop 
ments, and upon comparative appearance. It is almost 
impossible to get authentic information from the natives, 
for several reasons. So that in most instances, the his 
tory of this specimen or that cannot be given much farther 
back than the time of its coming into the possession of 
white people. There are, however, certain pieces extant, 
known to date well back into the eighteenth century. 
Emmons mentions such a basket, preserved at a certain 
tribal headquarters among the Tlingit. From their fra 
gile quality, the Aleut baskets would be of shorter life 
than the Tlingit, except in the case of the little "cigarette 
case," and that is so dainty in size and so light in weight, 
and is instinctively handled with so much more care than 
any of the other types, that it would undoubtedly attain 
much greater age. Of both the Tlingit and the Aleut, 
it should be borne in mind that they are created in a 
cold, damp climate, particularly the latter. In their 
native environment they are flexible, strong and tough, 
capable of withstanding a surprising amount of heavy 
rough use. In the dry heat of civilized homes, they 
require far more gentle handling. 

4. Kuskokwim. The people of the fourth division, 
Bristol Bay and the Kuskokwim River, use a coarse grass, 
unsplit, and produce a flexible woven basket that is inter 
esting but not particularly ornamental, and not to be 
compared in quality with either the Tlingit or the Aleut 
work. It is done in the close plain twine, but either the 
texture of the grass, or some personal equation in the 
handling of it, gives to the finished basket a distinct 

Forty-three 



character, quite unlike any close plain twine grass basket 
made to the south or west. The base is frequently oval 
instead of circular. The grass is cured to a dull brown 
ish shade, very different from the clear pale gold of the 
best Aleut work. Near the top, some of the woof strands 
show a dark brown color, and are used in alternation, 
like the Tlingit strawberry weave, or in pairs to produce 
a solid line of color. By this simple means, neat little 
decorative bands in the plainest of conventional designs 
are worked in the fabric. The finish at the top consists 
of a turning down of the warp, it being then worked in 
under the next and last line of woof; but the ends are 
usually rather long, and the finish has a somewhat ragged 
look on the wrong side. These baskets are not an article 
of commerce with the white people to any extent, because 
they do not come to the attention of the basket-buying 
tourist, and because if they did, he would prefer the 
Tlingit work with its gay colors. Furthermore, while 
the skins of birds, animals and fish enter to a large 
extent into the handicraft of all the native peoples of 
Alaska, such materials begin to occupy a larger place, 
at this point on the map, than they do to the south and 
east, and baskets, to a quite appreciable extent, give way 
to bags of skin. Therefore fewer baskets are made, and 
they are rarely seen away from their native locality. 
Nevertheless any representative collection of Alaska work 
should contain some of them. 

It is at about this point, also, that the coiled method 
begins to appear in Alaska basketry. And I have ob 
served that in the last twelve years, this method has 
gained great popularity in the Kuskokwim region. It 
is easier and more rapid, and gives greater durability 

Forty -four 



than the woven method; and the material is suitable to 
it. So that of late, hundreds of these coiled baskets, of 
all sizes, are brought out each season by the cannery ten 
ders, and may be found even in the department stores. 
They are usually bowl shaped, or globe shaped, and are 
scantily decorated with bits of old cloth, yarn, skin, fur, 
etc. Some of them are very attractive; but the buyer 
should acquire them with his eyes open, exactly as he 
would buy a Tlingit basket with realistic animal figures 
upon it. 

5. Eskimo. The Eskimo of the coast from Norton 
Sound north, and east along the Arctic, have no timber 
at their disposal only the coarse grass of the tundra. 
They are poor basketmakers, what work they do being 
a rather crude coiled product. Their real art is in the 
handling of skins, and in the carving of ivory (walrus 
and fossil) and bone. In their basketry they use a bundle 
of grass stems for the coil foundation, and the grass blade 
for the stitching element. The work is done in an inter 
locking stitch. In primitive times, a bird bone, sharp 
ened on a stone, served as a needle, but at present of 
course darning needles are easily available. Ornamenta 
tion is effected by the use of strips of light-weight hide, 
sometimes with the fur on it, or skin from the feet of 
birds, or any similar material that appears decorative to 
the Eskimo. This strip is laid upon the foundation coil, 
and made fast by being included under the stitching for 
a space. It is then laid back out of the way, while the 
stitching continues. Again it is laid flat on the coil and 
worked in out of sight for whatever space suits the 
weaver's design. Once more it is turned aside while the 
coiling continues without it, and again it is coiled under. 

Forty-five 




From the Collection of the Author 



Thus, when the work is done, the strip alternately appears 
and disappears, like ribbon run through beading. As 
beading this method of ornamentation is designated by 
Dr. Mason, and it is so known to students of basketry. 
It is widely distributed among basket-making peoples. 

Mention has been made of the fact that the growth 
of a market sometimes tends to improve the quality of 
basketry to a certain extent. Here is a case in point. 
Of late years, since the discovery of beach gold and the 
founding of Nome and the other far northern camps, 
the Eskimo has come into constant association with the 
white, people, and have thus seen that baskets have a 
commercial value. Accordingly, they are making more; 
and with practice, because they were poor weavers in the 
first place, their work improves on its technical side. The 
great trouble is, that in such cases the weavers invariably 
introduce other "improvements" along with that in exe 
cution, and that the baskets in a few years cease to express 
any phase of native life whatever, (unless it be the quite 
natural and universal one of a desire to make money,) 
and so have no ethnological value. 

6. Upper Yukon. The Tanana River, and the 
Yukon above it, drain a country of spruce and tama 
rack timber, with, of course, plenty of birch and willow. 
Therefore it follows that the Tinne or Athapascan peo 
ples who lived there used these materials for their baskets. 
Except in the case of the birch bark, which was folded 
into the required shape, the work was coiled. Even the 
birch baskets show some coiled work, in the method 
of stitching a willow shoot around the top for greater 
strength and finish. The coiled baskets were rigid and 
water-tight, practically unornamented, so far as I can 

Forty-s even 



learn; although a few Hudson's Bay beads were some 
times caught on the stitching of those not expected to 
stand heat. The materials included spruce root, tama 
rack root, willow root, willow twigs and birch bark, but 
these people were never basket-makers to the extent that 
the Tlingit were. They used skins, or dishes of wood 
or bark, much more than baskets, and good specimens 
of their work are hard to find. Their netting in raw 
caribou hide was, and still is, very clever, and took the 
place of baskets for some uses. I have heard, too, of a 
certain deposit of clay that would burn into pottery, and 
was so used ; but have never had the opportunity to verify 
or disprove the report. It is the only mention of pottery 
that I have heard in all Alaska. 

7. Lower Yukon. Along the Lower Yukon, three 
types of basket were made. In addition to the coiled 
grass basket of the coast, there could be found the coiled 
root or willow basket like those of the interior. And, 
too, the people made, and still make, a woven basket 
exactly similar in form, material and weave to the ordi 
nary Tlingit berry basket. The colored grass decoration 
is applied in precisely the same way, and the only dif 
ference discernible is in the design. I have never investi 
gated the origin of this type, so that I do not know 
whether it was borrowed from the Tlingit, or whether the 
Tlingit method is a growth from it. This is a question 
of interest for future research. 

Good baskets were exchanged commercially through 
out all of Alaska, even before the advent of the white 
man and his money, and the fact that a basket was found 
at any given place, is not proof that it was made there. 
Frequently its origin must be known by its characteristics, 
and its presence accounted for. 

Forty-eight 



A few general remarks on Alaska basketry can take 
no account of the many other forms of native handiwork; 
the strange Chilkat blankets of wild goat hair and cedar 
bark, woven in weird totemic designs, and important in 
ceremonial; the wonderfully made, almost indestructible 
robes of eagle down; the sinew-sewed robes of fox paws, 
of various furs and combinations of fur, of woven goat 
hair, embroidered with deer toes or ptarmigan feet; the 
carvings in wood, horn, bone, ivory, stone and sometimes 
metal; the ancient and quite effective weapons; the prim 
itive tools and utensils of everyday life, some of them 
better suited to the environment than anything the white 
man has been able to substitute for them; the tribal trays 
and ceremonial dishes; the burial boxes; the paintings, 
grotesque and totemic, like the blankets; the wrought 
copper vessels, formed from the great nuggets of native 
copper that used to be found sometimes in the Copper 
River country; the strange combinations of skins, and of 
skins and weaving, that took the place of baskets to a 
large extent in the Arctic regions; or of that most fas 
cinating subject, the canoe, skin, bark or wood, according 
to use, tribe and locality. 

Included, however, under the head of basketry, will 
be many developments in the form of mats, curtains, 
robes, cushions, sails, trays, any needed articles, to which 
the woven or coiled fabric could be adapted. 

When collected, and kept in the dry heat of our homes 
or museums, these baskets require some care. They 
should be disinfected, to begin with, and after that, the 
wood-fiber section should be oiled a little. The grass 
pieces are the better for exposure to dampness, if that 
does not involve too much handling. Dust is of course 

Forty-nine 



undesirable, but less so that perpetual dusting! The 
best course is to protect them from dust, and then let 
them alone to a reasonable extent. Above all, do not let 
over-enthusiastic friends, with no real knowledge of, or 
love for them, paw them over I think that just about 
expresses the proceeding by way of showing their 
interest in them and their owner. The way in which 
well-meaning people will sometimes handle rare and deli 
cate baskets, is strikingly like the manner in which the 
baby expresses its love for the kitten. 





From the Collection of the Author