Creation and Community: Making Mississippi Choctaw Arts
A Material Culture Studies Lecture by Emily Buhrow Rogers
Thursday May 21, 2020
2–3 p.m. (EST)
Email Jason Jackson at email@example.com to request Zoom details.
This talk examines how Mississippi Choctaw basket weavers, sewers, and beaders innovatively navigate myriad complex landscapes through their acts of creation. It reconceptualizes scholarly beliefs about the nature of material gathering, focuses on the lived realities of individual’s creative efforts, and brings into focus makers’ acts as future oriented and constitutive of the important rhythms of Choctaw social life.
Emily Buhrow Rogers holds a doctorate in anthropology and a master’s degree in folklore from Indiana University. She is currently an editor of the journal Mississippi Folklife and a researcher in the Material Culture and Heritage Studies Laboratory at Indiana University. She carried out her ethnographic research on the expressive practices of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) from 2017-2018 with the generous approval and support of the MBCI’s Chief’s Office and Tribal Council. This work was funded by grants from the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design; the American Philosophical Society; and the Whatcom Museum.
Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University.
William C. Sturtevant’s collection includes a group of baskets purchased in 1961 at the Choctaw Indian Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi. This example (above) is part of this group. It is number 580 and I have not yet learned who the artist who made it is. This basket is made from rivercane, a plant related to bamboo that is indigenous to the Southeast of North America.
To gain a sense of native basket making in the South as a dynamic cultural activity, check out these photographs from the 1st Gathering of Southeastern Indian Basketweavers in 2002. This was an event organized by the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program and the Williamson Museum.
Here is another basket from this group. A rivercane tray, it is number 576. Both are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
When wearing my curator hat, I have seen how ubiquitous love of tiny baskets seems to be, at least among fans of hand made objects. While I am sure that some engineer is doing nano-scale weaving already, tiny-scale seems good enough for fans of Native American basketry. The best known heroes in this area are the basket weavers of California, particularly the Pomo with their amazing feather covered baskets, but the art of the tiny basket has also been pursued in the native South. This impulse is reflected in this Choctaw basket by “Sweeny Willis” that was collected by John Mann Goggin among the Choctaw residing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Ms. Willis’s name is spelled “Sweenie” elsewhere, such as in the records associated with pottery that she made that is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.
This single weave river cane basket is currently referred to as #494 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
For a bit of theorizing, look below the fold.
I have been offline and not able to post on the Smithsonian work over the past few days. Today I need to get back to work, so here is a quick picture post. Shown above is a pine needle basket made by Rosa J. Pierite. In the artist’s information tag that accompanies the basket, she (?) identifies her tribal background as Choctaw-Tunica. Elsewhere (as in this Louisiana Folklife Center artist profile of Mrs. Pierite’s daughter, also a basketweaver), her tribal heritage has been noted as Choctaw-Biloxi.
Such pine needle baskets in the shape of a variety of animals–turkeys, alligators, etc.–are a remarkable basketry innovation from the Native peoples of Louisiana, but they are poorly represented in museum collections because earlier collectors and curators often ignored them as tourist arts. It is great that this example, along with three other pine needle baskets by Mrs. Pierite (not animal shaped) will be joining the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. This example is currently accounted as number T-006.
Please forgive the pop culture reference in my post title.