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Notes on an Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

For me, new light was just cast on a basket in the William C. Sturtevant Collection in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In the mail, I just received a slew of basketry books. This is a topic on which I need to get caught up for a number of interconnected purposes, including for the analysis and publication of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures basketry collections (especially the Eastern Cherokee baskets, which will be the focus of an exhibition that I will co-curate).

Among the used books that I just received is Baskets and Basket Makers in Southern Appalachia by John Rice Irwin (Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1982). In a chapter devoted to “The Indian Influence on Southern Appalachian Mountain Baskets” the author describes a relatively unfamiliar (to me, at this stage, at least) basket form on the basis of an example believed (to the author, at least) to be Cherokee and collected in Buncombe County, NC (p. 157). The basket discussed by Irwin is similarly shaped and similarly sized to a basket that I studied a few summers ago in the Sturtevant collection at NMNH. The splint basket that Sturtevant collected among the Eastern Cherokee is pictured here:

Eastern Cherokee Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

IMG_4760

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

It shares the same, flat on one side, curved on the other, shape as the basket pictured by Irwin. In a photo on p. 157, Irwin photographed a older boy holding the basket under his right arm, thereby illustrating how the shape of both baskets facilitates the collecting of berries, nuts, etc. with both hands. Prior to getting direct information from a Cherokee consultant who has made or used such a basket, this (that is, Irwin’s) is a much better account of this shape and its use that I had been speculating about.

 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jason, cool! Wikipedia says John Rice Irwin was a cultural historian, but he surely crosses over into folklore and material culture studies. about this same time he did a big project on Appalachian quilts, focusing on interviewing the people who made and used them.

    July 27, 2014

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