American Indian Basketry :
Developing a Collection
Native American Indian basketry
has been enjoyed for its beauty, its historic and cultural importance and
for the light it sheds on cultures that interacted daily with the natural
world in a way few members of "modern society" can imagine. Yet the
more one lives in a "synthetic" or manufactured environment, the greater the
need for a touchstone to our common past, for no matter one's heritage at
one point in time all our ancestors shared a closeness to the land and a
tribal bonding similar to that of the Native Americans who made the artworks
now displayed here in this most "synthetic" environment imaginable--the
Basketry is one of man's very
earliest technologies -- and art forms. In early cultures there was not the
division of spiritual life, art and beauty, utility, and work that pervades
most modern cultures. Instead, all aspects of life were fully
integrated, and this reveals itself in the material culture of America's
Today, little basketry has
survived that pre-dates 1880, the beginning of the early collector period
and few quality baskets were made after 1930 and the beginning of the Great
Depression. Within this fifty year window was made the majority of
fine, traditional basketry that still exists in collections today.
Of these existing examples, a
large portion is locked in the permanent collections of public and private
museums, universities and corporations. The remaining examples are mostly in
the hands of private collectors and the small handful of galleries and
dealers who specialize in these items.
Developing a collection can take
many forms. One can focus on a particular basketry-making culture or region,
on a particular form, or on a particular quality level of basketry.
Some collectors prefer to find a top example of each form, while others may
look for variety or a certain quality within a particular form. One
collector may build a broad museum-style collection, while another may
pinpoint a single culture and form, but in a variety of design motifs.
While there are no formal rules
to collecting here are some tips that may help you decide what to collect.
1. Visit museums and exhibitions
of baskets in person as often as possible and make a note of which items
regular draw your greatest interest.
2. Develop a library of basketry
related books, exhibition catalogs and articles. Don't forget out of
print/rare book dealers as many of the most helpful books were limited
editions. Public and university libraries often have useful texts and photos
and you can simply photocopy basket information that relates to your area of
3. Consider a basketry budget as
this will help determine which categories of baskets are under
consideration. Acquiring only two to four baskets per year will lead to a
substantial basket collection of ten to twenty baskets in only five years.
4. Prioritize your reasons for
collecting. A scholarly collection of baskets can be obtained on a
very limited budget and provide the collector with a personal "museum" to
study and enjoy, while an investment grade collection of major baskets may
bring prestige, important contacts and financial reward. Interior designing
with antiquities is a major motivation for collecting. Most likely you
will have a variety of reasons for collecting, but your top priority will
help determine which direction to venture.
5. Develop contacts with one or
two galleries or dealers who specialize in the items you seek. The most
active clients in a particular category of artifact are sure to be first on
the list to see the "next great acquisition" of the indicated type. Many top
items are sold before they make it to the gallery floor in this manner
because a serious collector has made their interest in a certain type of
6. Seize opportunities to acquire
baskets of the type you seek as such opportunities grow less frequent with
each passing year as more and more baskets are taken off the market.
7. Seize opportunities to buy
items you have NOT planned on collecting, but know from your research are
important examples and good values. Such items can be traded or leveraged
into other items at the right time.
7. Finally, imagine your
collection ten years from now. Imagine publishing a book on your
collection--what would its theme be? Imagine a formal exhibition of your
collection --how might items be grouped? Imagine a film documentary based on
your collection -- what might it look like? Such brainstorming can help you
visualize the type of collection you would enjoy developing, a collection
that will open the door to new friends, new discoveries and new adventures.