Skokomish basket (t’cayas)
Beargrass, cattail leaves, red cedar bark
Gift of John H. Hauberg, 86.91
Cedar work song
Sung by Dobie Tom
Recorded by Katie Jennings, 2004
The Klikitat Basket story
Told by Vi taqwsheblu Hilbert
Recorded by Katie Jennings, 1995
This basket has the characteristic design and form associated with Skokomish basketry. A band of wolf figures with down-turned tails, facing right on a solid baseline, decorates the top area below the rim of the basket. This type of four-legged animal—either a wolf with a down-turned tail, or a dog with an upturned tail—is a common design element used by Skokomish weavers. On the body of the basket the double zigzag or v-shaped pattern called “salmon gills” and “spread out (like a sword fern)” divide the lower portion into alternating, opposite triangles. The design is done in two colors, brown or black and red, on a natural background. The technique used is overlay twining, where two colors of weft—the horizontal element—are carried along and twisted between the warps—the vertical elements—allowing the weaver to vary the colors by alternating the colored wefts.
Twining is one of the most
ancient forms of weaving, and has been in practice among the Puget Sound Salish
for several thousands of years. Soft twined baskets served as storage containers
for household goods such as clothing and other valuables. After the Euro-American settlement of
Skokomish Woman known as Big Ann or Satsop Ann,
Basketmaker Near South Bend,
Postcard by D. M. Averill & Co.
One of the most important artistic expressions of Native American culture is the living art of basket making. Baskets are markers of cultural pride and inheritance. Most raw materials, including beargrass and cedar root used in weaving, are harvested or gathered at specific times of the year. This ensures that the materials are collected when they are best suited for weaving. Weavers understand the growing cycles of the natural materials they use and recognize when a tree or plant is ready for harvesting.
Anders B. Wilse, photographer
Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax)
A member of the lily family, beargrass in bloom has a plume of small white flowers. Its strength and durability make it a particularly appealing material for weavers. The leaves are gathered during the summer, placed outside to dry and bleach, and stored in a dry place. Beargrass can also be dyed yellow with bark from the Oregon grape plant, or black with a special mud. Weavers also began to experiment with other colors with the introduction of commercial dyes.
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
Cedar roots and bark are
used in the creation of baskets in the
Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Cattails grow in shallow
fresh water throughout the
Often, special prayers are said or songs are sung by the weaver while they gather and process the materials. Cedar weaving, like wool weaving, is a transformative act in which raw materials are turned into “wealth” through the intervention of a spirit power guiding the weaver. Cedar work songs are prayers to the Grandmother Cedar for her gifts and to keep the artist focused and respectful.
Weaving is historically a woman’s art form, but today many Native men, including Bruce subiyay Miller (who is featured in Teachings of the Tree People), are accomplished weavers. Techniques in the weaving tradition are learned by observation and imitation, and are often passed down through families from one generation to the next. Designs, such as those seen on this basket, are often conceived mentally and created in the process of weaving row by row, not measured out beforehand on paper. Some designs are related specifically to a story and represent the oral tradition in visual form. Skokomish weavers use many designs, often relating to the natural environment including “flounder beds” and “crow’s shells”.
Contemporary basket weaving is a way of reclaiming Native forms and heritage.
Students will explore artwork and stories that demonstrate:
§ How lessons are transmitted through stories and through personal perseverance
§ How basketry designs often relate to the natural environment and to stories
Listen to the story of the Klickitat Basket.
§ How did you feel after hearing this story?
§ What do you think the girl learned?
§ What qualities or virtues did the girl possess?
§ What qualities do you possess that make you an individual?
Ask the students to think for a moment about something they have had to practice many times, or for a long time, to learn. Divide the class into small groups; give each of the students a designated teaching method. For example, there may be five groups of five students; each person in the small group will have a different method to teach the other people in the group. Each student will teach or describe to the others how to do something new.
§ Model behavior without the use of words.
§ Tell a story.
§ Have each person imitate the action.
§ Give each person a different job and work together to learn, using the different skills.
§ Use a process of question-asking.
§ Use repetition as a way of learning.
After the exercise ask the students how they felt about learning from the different approaches. Have the students write about their experience.
§ Name different types of containers we have in our homes.
§ What are some things we keep in these containers?
§ What are some things the Coast Salish might have stored in baskets? (Food: clams, berries, roots, and so on; clothing, valuables, tools for fishing, weaving, etc., and materials for sewing, weaving, or other domestic needs.)
Discuss the natural materials used to make this basket (beargrass, cattail leaves and red cedar bark), bringing in examples if possible. It is important to understand the work and time involved in the gathering and processing of weaving materials. Some of the materials require extensive travel, digging, peeling and preparation. Listen to the type of song the women may sing while gathering and processing the weaving materials. (Play the video to hear the Cedar Work Song in this module). How can song help ease the burden of hard work?
Explain the method of twining used to make the basket (See Burke Museum Website http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/baskets/index.html)
Design Discussion and Activity
§ How would you describe the designs on the Skokomish basket?
§ Can you guess what animal is depicted on the top of the basket?
§ Look at some other designs used by Coast Salish basket makers
From Crow’s Shells: Artistic Basketry of Puget Sound. By
Drawing basket designs of animals and plants on graph paper).
§ What is the difference between the designs for the dog and the wolf?
§ Why would salmon designs be important to the basket makers?
§ Why would the helldiver designs be important?
Cut out a piece of graph paper in the shape of a basket. Draw the designs from the handout on the graph paper with colored pens or pencils. Traditional colors are in the brown and black ranges.
The Coast Salish created designs that depicted the plants and animals that were important in their lives. What animals, plants or objects are important to you? Create your own basket design(s) on graph paper. Name your designs. Write a story incorporating the animals, plants or objects you have chosen to use in your designs.
Skokomish—In the mid-1800s, nine subgroups (Skokomish, Hoodsport, Duhlelap, Quilcene, Vance Creek, Tahuya, Dabob, Dosewallips, and Duckabush) were moved onto a single reservation located near Shelton, Washington, and became known as the Skokomish tribe. The name Skokomish means “People of the River.” The Skokomish were renown for their weaving skills.
Warp—the vertical elements in weaving, which provide structure to the basket, and are often invisible.
Weft—the horizontal elements in weaving, which provide structure and decoration on the outside of the basket.
Overlay Twining—a decorative weaving technique that involves the use of extra strands laid on top of the structural weft, to contrast in color and texture, creating complex patterns of different colors.
Brown, Steve. The Spirit Within:
Kuneki, Nettie, Elsie
Thomas and Marie Slockish. The
Heritage of Klikitat Basketry: A History
and Art Preserved.
Lobb, Allan. Indian Baskets of the Pacific Northwest
Marr, Carolyn J. and
Schlick, Mary Dodds, Arthur
Erickson, Mariana Mace, and Kaye Van Valkenburg. Woven History: Native American Basketry of the
Stewart, Hillary. Cedar: Tree of Life to the
Wright, Robin (ed.). A Time of Gathering: Native Heritage in
Cannibal Basket Woman
Defeated by Clever Kids. A traditional
On-line Burke Museum of
Natural History and Culture exhibit Entwined
with Life: Native American Basketry.
In June 1996 the Northwest Native American Basketweaver's
Association was formed. The main event for NNABA is its annual Gathering
where over 100 weavers meet to share skills, stories, materials, and each