Burden Basket

Large tan woven basket with dark brown triangles
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Large tan woven basket with dark brown triangles

Date:

1870/80

Artist:

Pomo
Northern California, United States

About this artwork

Northern California is the ancestral home of numerous Indian tribes, many of which speak different languages yet share a similar culture and an artistic tradition centering on basketry. Basket making is an ancient art, and, in some indigenous traditions elsewhere in the Americas, the graphic character of early basketry designs deeply influenced subsequent ceramics, textiles, and other mediums of visual expression. In California, where the making of fine baskets always remained a primary art, women from the Karok, Maidu, Mono, Pomo, Washo, Wintu, Yokuts, and other tribes produced works unsurpassed in fineness of weave, subtle shape, and sophisticated design.
The Pomo were especially accomplished designers and weavers of baskets for all purposes, and the cone-shaped burden basket is a well-known form in their artistic repertoire. This example is in excellent condition considering both its age and the fact that it was subjected to practical use. (As an object made for utilitarian purposes, it has no sacred or ritualistic functions.) The subtly curving, conical shape is beautifully woven with a diagonal twine; alternating, triangular motifs in dark brown and light tan escalate in size from the narrowest, lower point to the wide, open rim. Serrated lines of uniformly smaller triangles separate the dominant shapes and reinforce the overall sense of spiraling, diagonal movement. This is a very old Pomo graphic convention, for such baskets were seen and described by Sir Francis Drake on his voyage of exploration up the California coast in 1577. In the Art Institute’s collection, there are other notable Pomo baskets of different shapes and functions but of similar graphic character: a large hemispherical bowl [1998.308]; an imposing wedding basket ornamented with quail feathers, shell, and colored glass beads [2000.323]; and a jewel-like "gift basket" covered with iridescent feathers [2003.173].
This particular basket, however, is an especially pleasing “classic” in the Pomo visual tradition, amplifying our understanding of a remarkable genre of American Indian art. It also provides an example of basketry’s last great flowering in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a sweeping vogue for collecting such works accompanied the international Arts and Crafts movement, which in the United States inspired a desire to create a deeply rooted "American" vocabulary of forms in architecture, painting, and sculpture.
— Revised from Richard Townsend, Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies 32, 1 (2006), pp. 8-9.


The Pomo were especially accomplished designers and weavers for all purposes, and the cone shaped burden basket is a well-known form in their artistic repertoire. This late 19th century example is in excellent condition considering both its age and the fact that it was made for utilitarian purposes. The basket is beautifully woven with a diagonal twine; alternating triangular motifs in dark brown and light tan escalate in size rom the bottom to the rim. Serrated lines of smaller triangles separate the dominant shapes and reinforce the overall sense of spiraling, diagonal movement. Ancient basketry preceded ceramics and influenced many shapes and designs of later pottery.
— Entry, Pocket Guide (Art Institute of Chicago, 2009), pg. 4.

On View

Arts of the Americas, Gallery 136

Artist

Pomo

Title

Burden Basket

Origin

California

Date

1870–1880

Medium

Plant fibers

Dimensions

53.3 × 61 cm (21 × 24 in.)

Credit Line

Highland Park Associates

Reference Number

2003.172

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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