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Roots, Bark & Grass, an inredible display in 'Ksan Museum
CONTRIBUTION · 28th June 2012
GG Miles
Everyday Art from Northwest Nations

A stunning collection of the fine art of basketry by indigenous women is on display at the museum of ‘Ksan Historical Village in Hazelton through this summer.

Using roots, grass and bark from the land around them the home makers of Dene of the north, Aleut near the Arctic Circle, the Gitxsan and Carrier of the interior, coastal Salish, Tlingit and Nootka and Haida on their islands created works of art that were part of everyday life.

There are baskets so tightly and finely woven that they could be used for cooking, by filling them with water and adding hot stones, medium and larger baskets were used for storage of household items and food gathering and storage. The oldest are from the late 1800’s, and a few are just over ten years old.

The mathematical and technical talent of the basket makers shows the sometimes forgotten genius of women in an art that may be dying, says ‘Ksan director Laurel Wilson, who hopes that the show may inspire young people to learn the art.

Tiny scenes of boats and whales adorn some tiny pieces formed around glass bottles, delicate leaf patterns are scratched in birch bark and perfect geometric designs are woven into spruce root baskets.

Some look like pottery, some look like wooden chests or fine fabric handbags. Roots were dug and split, bark was stripped and used in sheets or worked into fibers; grasses were gathered and woven, stitched and bound together using mainly natural materials.

The show has baskets on loan from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, the Douglas Reynolds Gallery in Vancouver and about a third from ‘Ksan’s own collection.

Often the baskets in museums are kept in storage so this sharing lets some of the western ones come home to where they were made, at least for a visit, explains Wilson.

The forty baskets, with their incredible range of form and technique, represent a glimpse into the not so distant past of first nations of the northwest, cultures rich in resources and creativity, whose women made each piece of daily life worthy of design and decoration.
Gitxsan baskets for everyday use
Gitxsan baskets for everyday use
Coastal baskets show tiny scenes of seafaring life
Coastal baskets show tiny scenes of seafaring life
Domestic artists used cedar in amazing ways
Domestic artists used cedar in amazing ways