American Indian Baskets: Building and Caring for a Collection

May 1st, 2014 | By | Category: 25-4: Nation Building, Media Reviews

American Indian Baskets: Building and Caring for a Collection By William A. Turnbaugh and Sarah Peabody TurnbaughBy William A. Turnbaugh and Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh
Schiffer Publishing (2013)
272 pages

Review by Diane Dittemore

The Turnbaughs have produced another book that will serve as an excellent reference for collectors of Native American basketry. Whereas their first publication, Indian Baskets (1986), was a general survey of North American basketry using the collections of the Peabody Museum, this book has a narrower focus. Also profusely illustrated— mostly with basketry from private collections—it contains practical advice regarding considerations in making a collection and what collectors should, and more importantly should not, do to prolong the life of their prized baskets.

The introductory survey of the history of basketry collecting is well done, gathering a range of information that has been published elsewhere into a single chapter. The chapter highlighting basketry produced in Africa, Pakistan, and elsewhere around the world that is often mistaken as Native American, is also a good original contribution. Such information will be especially helpful for beginning collectors who might be fooled by look-alike baskets they find in antique shops, tag sales, and even in Native-run shops on Indian reservations.

The book is somewhat problematic however. There are very few references to actual Indian basket weavers, and they are rarely supported by photographs. The few photographs of contemporary Native weavers also include the co-author, which seems awkward. That they include information about Native basketry organizations is praiseworthy; it is too bad that this information was not supported through photo-illustrations of the many wonderful people running them.

The authors’ analysis of the potential impact of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) on basketry collecting appears unsympathetic to Native perspectives regarding ceremonial objects, while their admonitions regarding collecting of ancient basketry are tepid. Moreover, the two rare Ancestral Pueblo (Pueblo III) coiled baskets that are illustrated appear to be from private collections, sending altogether the wrong message.

In summary, there is much valuable information in American Indian Baskets. A tribal college student could use this as a source for learning the history of basketry collecting. A contemporary weaver or other artisan could be introduced to a range of historic basketry. The book provides insight into the perspectives of largely non-Native collectors, and could serve as source material for critical analyses of the Native artist–patron relationship in the past and today. I would recommend its inclusion in a tribal college library.

Diane Dittemore is the ethnological collections curator at the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.

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