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Akimel O’odham Basket Trays

  • Pima Basket Tray

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    Basket Tray (76036).. Made of rush stitched with split willow.. (Cat. No. E76036)

    Pima Basket Tray
  • Pima Basket Tray

    anthroimages/medium/E076036_02-ant-200611.jpg

    Basket Tray (76036).. Made of rush stitched with split willow.. (Cat. No. E76036)

    Pima Basket Tray
  • Pima Basket Tray

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    Coiled basket bowl (E76037). (Cat. No. E76037)

    Pima Basket Tray
  • Pima Basket Tray

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    Coiled basket bowl (E76038), built on yucca fiber and sewed with rhus or willow. The ornamentation involves red paint and splints dyed black. The border of back-and-forward sewing imitates a braid. The method of administration is quite apparent in the specimen. The border stitches have an excursion varying from 2 to 4 of the regular stitches of the last coil at the top of the bowl. Depth, 3 inches.. (Cat. No. E76038)

    Pima Basket Tray
  • Pima Basket Tray

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    Large Piman basket bowl (E76041). The use of the continuous fret ornamentation in this basket is remarkable, and shows the easy manner in which the fret may have arisen in basketry. The border is a false braid formed by a single splint and resembles an elongated guilloche, an intricate repetitive pattern. Width, 18 ¾; depth 5 ½. Collected by Edward Palmer in 1874.. (Cat. No. E76041)

    Pima Basket Tray

collection
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Location: Gila River Reservation, Arizona
Culture: Pima, currently known as the Akimel O'odham (‘River People’), and sometimes as the Gileño, or Gila Pima
Date Acquired: 1885 (collected March 1885)
Accession No.: 015930

Related Plants
Collected by Palmer

Probiscidea
althaefolia
Probiscidea
althaefolia
Probiscidea
althaefolia
Proboscidea
louisianica ssp. fragrans
Salix
nigra
Typha
sp.
Typha
sp.
Typha
sp.
Typha
sp.


Hypnotizing Patterns & Textures

These baskets were made by the Akimel O'odham (formerly called the Pima), an ethnic group that is part of the Tohono O'odham Nation in South Central Arizona and Mexico which numbers approximately 20,000 individuals. The Piman language is among 100 or so native languages spoken north of Mexico that are under immediate threat of extinction. However, it is still spoken, written, and taught from primary school on (Lewis, 2009).

With their striking patterns, smooth lines, and precise craftsmanship, baskets like these captivated nineteenth-century anthropologists and collectors around the world. The Akimel O'odham (also known as the Pima) made more and more of these baskets as increasing numbers of tourists, scientists, and collectors traveled by the new railroad lines to the southwestern United States. Thousands of baskets remain today in museums and private collections from the great period of basket collecting that began in the 1880s (Hedges, 1997:54). While basketry is still in practice by many Indigenous communities, other non-native vessels make up the majority of daily use (Hedges, 1997:54).

Devil's Claw in the Details
Once made from wild plants including grasses, rushes (Juncus sp.), willows (Salix sp.), and cattails (Typha sp.), these baskets drove the domestication and stewardship of one plant in particular: devil's claw (Proboscidea sp.), which produces the black patterns woven into the baskets. Long supple strips, up to twelve inches long, protrude like claws from the pods, clearly adapted to latch on to passing animals and humans in order to disperse the seeds. Weavers collected the dry pods from the desert then soaked and split them from their points downward. Weavers then buried the splints in wet earth to keep the fibers pliable while the weaver worked. Devil's claw splints are so tough that they out-wear other strong fibers including willow (Curtin, 1984). Originally relying on two wild plant species (Proboscidea parviflora and Proboscidea althaefolia), the Akimel O'odham domesticated a third form, now formally named P. parviflora var. hohokamiana.

Cattail (Typha domingensis and Typha latifolia), the primary plant used in the baskets' foundation, is called oodeak in Piman. This familiar plant grows in wetland habitats within the Sonoran Desert. Cattail used in basketry is gathered in August when green and peeled and split into halves. The split stems are then spread on the ground to dry and bleach under the hot sun. Once dry, they are twisted with the black strands of devil's claw to start the center of the basket (Curtin, 1984).  

Palmer's Collection
Palmer collected this basket set on an eight-day visit to the Gila (pronounced "heela") River Reservation established in 1859. The Gila River is a major tributary of the Colorado River. It flows west from Gila Mountains of northern New Mexico to its mouth at Yuma, near the Mexico border (Felger 2000:570). Little is known about this particular visit by Palmer among the Akimel O'odham; of his 1885 field notes, only those for the grasses have been preserved.

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