Miniature Karuk Basket

February 26, 2016: Miniature Karuk Basket

This beautiful, miniature basket was woven by contemporary Karuk weaver Laura Sanders using traditional materials. The warps of the basket, which you can see poking from the edge of the lid as well as along the crossed-warp start, are made of willow shoots. The light-brown primary weft background is of willow root. The overlay, which makes up the design, consists of creamy-white bear grass and wine-red Woodwardia fern.

The use of red-dyed Woodwardia was present throughout Northwestern California, but it was historically most common among the Karuk. The parts of the fern used in weaving are the white filaments that run the length of the stipe (stalk), which are broken out from the frond. They are dyed their rich, vibrant hue with the bark of white alder (Alnus rhombifolia). Dying can be applied by chewing up the bark and running the fern filament through the mouth or by crushing the inner alder bark into powder, boiling it in water, and seeping the fern filaments in the solution once it has cooled.

Karuk basketry is part of the basketry family of Northwestern California, which includes cultures such as Yurok, Hupa, Tolowa, Whilkut, and Chilula. In this area of California, twining was dominant with only a very few known instances of coiling among the Whilkut and Chilula, post-European contact. A key trait of Northwestern California twining is the use of single-sided overlay, in which the overlay material is placed behind the primary weft (usually conifer root) on the backface of the basket and exterior to the primary weft on the workface of the basket. The result is overlay design only on the workface of the basket, which can be used to distinguish Northwestern California basketry from Northeastern California basketry, which employs a double-sided overlay technique.

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