Whilkut Twined Basket with Unclipped Interior Wefts
Whilkut Twined Basket with Unclipped Interior Wefts

June 25, 2015: Whilkut Twined Basket with Unclipped Interior Wefts

Blue Lake, Humboldt County, California
Basket purchased September 15, 1910 by Clinton Hart Merriam
Height: 7.5 cm; Max Width: 13 cm

Clinton Hart Merriam, turn-of-the-century naturalist and ethnographer, was fascinated by the basketry made by the Native Peoples of California. Indeed, basketry was a subject that combined his fascination with California’s rich biota with his love of the people he met during his travels. Merriam began an extensive basketry collection during his travels in California and the American West, purchasing baskets from people he met along the way. While others of the time mostly bought ornate made-for-sale baskets, Merriam’s collection practices were unique in his interest in the day-to-day, often buying baskets that were well worn or that he saw being used. This particular basket was not even fully complete when he purchased it!

This twined basket from Northwestern California features a technique called overlay. While non-overlay twining requires only two weft elements, the overlay technique uses at least four weft elements, two underlay and two overlay elements (potentially more if some are carried under to prevent excessive weft substitutions during design). Notice that the overlay (white bear grass, red-dyed woodwardia, and black maidenhair fern) is “single-sided” in that it only shows on the exterior (workface, in this case) of the basket, being hidden behind the spruce root underlay on the interior (backface, in this case). However, the presence of the leftover ends of overlay is apparent where unclipped strands are left sticking out of the backface of the basket. These were usually clipped with a sharp rock or shell upon completion of the basket.

Merriam does not specify why he bought it this way, although it serves as a valuable example of an in-progress single-sided overlay basket. Merriam’s original catalog card for this basket reads as follows:

“Tribe: ‘Hwilkut or Hoi-let-ha, Athapaskan Stock, Redwood Cr., Humboldt Co., Calif.
Diam. Mouth 95 mm (3 ¾ in.)

Chel-lotch. –Small twined slightly choked trinket basket. Body of basket spruce roots overlaid with Xerophyllum, Woodwardia, and Adiantum. The main body of the design is salmon-red (black in photo [referring to his photo]) from the inner ropes of Woodwardia stained red with inner bark of alder. The 2 closely parallel horizontal stripes near the top appear to be a feature of H’Wilkut baskets.

Purchased by me from the woman who was making it (had not yet finished it) at Blue Lake, Humboldt, Co., Calif. Sept. 15, 1910. –CHM”

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