From the Vault: Stories from the Collection – Native American Baskets from Northern California

The roots of Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s basket collection reach back over fifty years to the founding of the Redding Museum and Art Center in 1963. Collecting and preserving Native American material culture, particularly basketry, was a priority from the start. We have collected

Patwin feathered doctor basket
Patwin feathered doctor basket
sedgeroot, woodpecker, mallard, quail, and jay feathers, clam and abalone shell, native hemp
1964.1.144 Museum Purchase

baskets from all over North America and other regions where basketry is used, but over half of our extensive collection is comprised of pieces from right here in Northern California.

Redding sits in the center of the most culturally diverse region in Native California. Dozens of tribes live in this land of marked contrasts: from the foggy coastline to the high desert, in the heavily forested mountains and broad river valleys, over rolling hills and up on volcanic crags, for thousands of years Native peoples have adapted to the land and developed their own distinct identities and lifeways. This wealth of difference is reflected in the basket-making traditions found in the North State. Environmentally specific materials, practical and spiritual needs, intertribal relationships, and cultural aesthetics all contribute to the wide variety of styles, forms, and decoration found here.

Hupa Bowl, Modoc Cooking Bowl, Wintu Bowl with Achumawi influence
Hupa Bowl (L) willow, conifer root, bear grass, maidenhair fern made by Ella Harris before 1917 1986.56.4 Gift of Anna Kjer & Audrey Kjer Caviness Modoc Cooking Bowl (UR) tule and cattail c. 1900 – 1920 1963.1.18 Museum Purchase Wintu Bowl with Achumawi influence (LR) willow, conifer root, bear grass, maidenhair fern, redbud 1930 – 1940 1978.3.4 Museum Purchase

Old baskets, new baskets, plain baskets, fancy baskets, tiny baskets, giant baskets, baskets made to hold acorns, and baskets made for collectors: these pieces are more than works of art or historic objects to be gazed upon for their beauty; they are part of a living, breathing, active, and continuing tradition. As well as demonstrating diversity, these baskets have stories to tell. They paint a picture of what life was like in Northern California before Europeans arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, and how that contact changed the region and its peoples forever. Turtle Bay’s basket collection is a dynamic tool for learning about and appreciating other cultures and for modern Native basket makers to study pieces and share information.

It has been my pleasure to work with our Native baskets for over a decade. In studying them, caring for them, finding interesting stories to tell through exhibitions, lending them to other museums, and arranging tours of the collection for basketmakers, we endeavor to keep these traditions and these objects alive. For us, the journey continues through our research and exhibitions.

Maidu Coiled Bowl and Tray
Maidu Coiled Bowl and Tray
peeled and unpeeled redbud and mud-dyed bracken fern root
the tray is 27 1/2” and the bowl is 22 1/2” in diameter
Made by Salina Jackson for sale
1978.4.1 & 2 Museum Purchase

Several years ago a researcher touring the collection asked me if I had a favorite basket. It was not something I had thought about much, but I walked straight to its storage location without consulting the catalog and pulled it off the shelf. This large, heavily used cooking bowl, probably from one of the Klamath River Basin tribes (below) caught and held my attention the first time I saw it. It isn’t pristine. The inside is heavily worn, burnt, and stained. The pattern isn’t very fancy. It isn’t covered in beads or feathers. We have no idea who made it. It is absolutely beautiful.

If you enjoyed this blog, you will love our publication, Native Baskets from Northern California: Stories from the Collection available though the museum store.


Klamath River Basin Cooking Bowl
Klamath River Basin Cooking Bowl
1986.68.9 Gift of Robert & Mabel M. Smith



The Vault is always open!

Julia Pennington Cronin

Curator of Collections & Exhibits

Follow me on Twitter @CuratrixJulia

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