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
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.
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.
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.
The Vault is always open!
Julia Pennington Cronin
Curator of Collections & Exhibits
Follow me on Twitter @CuratrixJulia