The Brock Collection of Baskets

By: H. N. W.

Originally Published in 1932

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THE art of the basket-maker reached its highest development among the tribes of the California region, a number of which are represented in the John W. Brock Collection, recently presented to the Museum by Mrs. Brock. There are Maidu, Hat Creek, Tulare, Mission and Washo, but the finest of these is the basket known as ‘L K 36,’ made by the famous Dat-so-la-lee or ‘Louisa Keyser’ So perfect in form, design and technique is her work that her baskets are known by name and their owners recorded. To the design of this gem [Plate XIII], Dat-so-la-lee gave the name ‘Slaying of the Snow-birds,’ which recalls a time of famine when the Washo were forced to feed upon the beloved little birds. The grouping of the three arrow-pierced birds is said to signify hope, spring sun, and warmth. In the spring of 1904, thirty-nine days were spent in the weaving, but behind that lay days of gathering white willow shoots and black fern root, in curing and splitting these elements to even fineness. This treasure basket is only five inches high and weighs five and a half ounces, but into its making went over twenty thousand stitches, twenty-five stitches to the running inch of the coil-truly a masterpiece.

Another coiled willow basket in the collection bears the design ‘We will assemble. Our men will hunt for game. They are good hunters.’ A band below the rim reads ‘assembling’; a line of dashes are the ‘men’; triangles signify ‘hunting’; and a sinuous line expresses ‘cunning, skill.’ An offerings basket, its stitch running seventeen to the inch, it compares well with Dat-so-la-lee’s ordinary work, though doubtless she would have scorned this work of another.

Not less attractive are three Pomos; a large oval basket of fine weave and pleasing design; a treasure basket with its surface entirely covered with feather mosaic, bronzy green from the neck of the duck, and yellow from the meadow-lark’s breast; and a dainty basket with striking inwoven design, over which lies the soft haze of tiny red feathers from the woodpecker’s poll, while scattered quail plumes lend it airy grace. There are thirty-six stitches to the inch. The Pomo women have no superiors as basket-makers.

Small round woven basket with columns of three black marks
Plate XIII — A Basket, Called ‘Slaying of the Snow-Birds,’ Made by Dat-so-la-lee, Famous Washo Indian Basket Weaver
Museum Object Number: 31-45-15
Image Number: 12762

From California comes also a pear-shaped Hupa basket, in soft brown and cream, in twined weave with overlay (see cover design). Of like weave are the utilitarian Modocs: a conical garnering basket for the wild grass seeds and a tray for their winnowing.

The Salish of British Columbia are represented by two old, squarish baskets, the characteristic imbricated decorative element being carried along in folds on the exterior surface.

In striking contrast are a substantial cylindrical covered basket of spruce root, made by the Tlingit of Alaska, and a beautiful double case of satiny grass of finest ‘Panama’ weave from Ecuador.

Four little baskets from Africa are included in the collection: one heavy and globular, with conical lid, from the Egyptian Sudan; the others light, slender·, cylindrical, with cup-shaped lids, probably came from the southern Congo.

The John W. Brock Collection is a welcome addition to the Museum’s outstanding collection of native basketry.


Cite This Article

W., H. N.. "The Brock Collection of Baskets." Museum Bulletin III, no. 3-4 (January, 1932): 98-102. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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