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Posts from the ‘Ethnography’ Category

Fieldwork: Introduction (12/13-18)

Skip ahead six paragraphs (bypass those marked with an hash mark #) if you want to go straight to the start of the fieldwork stories. If you would like to know why my colleagues and I were in China doing fieldwork, start here at the beginning. (After this post, I will do one or two more with some fieldwork highlights.)

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Manjiang village, a community within the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

# The China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project is a binational collaboration linking the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society. It has been underway formally since 2007 and has included multiple project phases and, in these phases, various sub-projects. A wide range of funders have supported the project and its work and a great number of Chinese and American scholars and practitioners have participated in its activities. Among U.S. participants, special attention is often given to the Henry Luce Foundation, which has been particularly generous in supporting several phases of the project (Lloyd 2017).

# Two sub-projects occurring in two different phases of the project have a specific museum focus. Between 2013 and 2016, a sub-project titled “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” brought together six museums of ethnography—three from the United States and three from Southwest China. These museum partners organized two “Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage” events, pursued professional exchanges of staff members, traveled together to visit local communities in the home regions of each museum, and undertook a joint exhibition and catalogue project. The resulting exhibition—Quilts of Southwest China has been touring the United States. The bilingual catalogue is distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press. These are just the formal highlights of the project. A wide range of spin-off projects and collaborative relationships also arose from this joint work (Dewhurst 2017; Du 2017; Indiana University 2013; Lloyd 2017; MacDowell 2017; MacDowell and Zhang 2016; Zhang 2017).

# A new phase of the larger project began in 2017 and it also includes a museum-focused sub-project. The new project builds on relationships and experiences arising in the preceding effort. Between 2017 and 2019, the “Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies” sub-project is bringing together researchers from the three U.S. museums (Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Michigan State University Museum, Museum of International Folk Art) with colleagues affiliated with the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (AMGX), as well as that museum’s partners in two local ecomuseums: the Nandan Baiku (White Trousers) Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum.

# The workshop (discussed in posts 6 and 7) was another formal part of the project, but the most crucial activity is ethnographic fieldwork in two communities—those associated with the two ecomuseums in Nandan and Sanjiang counties in Northern Guangxi. The December 2017 trip was for the first of four fieldwork efforts. On this trip, our local hosts and partners were the staff at the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum.

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A pet bird in a basketry cage in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

# In a Chinese context, an ecomuseum is a local museum framework that encompasses a community or group of communities, often associated with a single ethnic group or “nationality.” In Nandan County, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum is embraces three contiguous villages near the town of Lihu. These three villages are situated within a wider area where “White Trouser Yao” people reside. White Trouser Yao is a designation for a particular group of Yao people distinguished by the white knicker-style pants worn as part of local men’s dress. Ecomuseums are somewhat hard to explain in a North American context because they are not limited to a fixed museum building (although they often include gallery spaces and other buildings used for museum functions). In formal terms at least, an ecomuseum is a way of characterizing an entire community or group of communities. The ecomuseum framework then becomes a organizational strategy for cultural heritage activities, including documentary work, cultural preservation activities, and perhaps also cultural tourism. The closest analog in the U.S. would be the situation found in some Native American communities where a “tribal museum” may have a museum building but may also facilitate a range of cultural preservation activities throughout the community. Wikipedia characterizes ecomuseums as follows:

An ecomuseum is a museum focused on the identity of a place, largely based on local participation and aiming to enhance the welfare and development of local communities. Ecomuseums originated in France, the concept being developed by Georges Henri Rivière and Hugues de Varine, who coined the term ‘ecomusée’ in 1971.[1] The term “éco” is a shortened form for “écologie”, but it refers especially to a new idea of holistic interpretation of cultural heritage, in opposition to the focus on specific items and objects, performed by traditional museums.

The nature and potential of ecomuseums is a key research concern of our partners at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (more on that later).

In a few final post or two, I will offer some highlights of our fieldwork experience. Here I explain our topic and circumstances.

While in Nandan County, the project participants stayed in rooms connected to the offices of the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum. This offered our group the opportunity to reside in the village cluster where the museum is centered without necessitating staying spread among various host families. The simple guest rooms at the museum were created with this sort of visiting research use in mind. The arrangement meant that visitors and locals could interact meaningfully from early in the morning to late in the evening without being a burden to local families nor introducing the disruption and social separation that would have accompanied staying in a hotel distant from the communities at the center of the research. He Jinxiu, a Baiku Yao woman who is active in the work of the museum, a civic leader in the community, and a noted textile artist, was engaged to cook for the visitors with the help of a younger woman in her family and another younger woman Li Xiuying who is also a noted local textile artist. This arrangement was very appropriate to local norms and was generously arranged for by the local museum staff and supported by the AMGX. I know that the other American participants join me in expressing deep appreciation for the generous hospitality extended to us by all of our partners in the project and by the members of the contiguous villages of Huatu, Manjiang, and Huaili in which the ethnographic investigations were undertaken.

Over the course of the research visit, the participants broke into three teams. Two of these teams focused on the nexus of textile arts and cultural heritage practices that are at the center of the project. These two research teams were made up of researchers from the American museums, from the AMGX, and from the Baiku Yao ecomuseum. Work by these teams was pursued in a mixture of English, provincial Mandarin, and the local Baiku Yao language.

One of these two teams focused on fabric arts; the other focused on bamboo basketry and the related practice of incorporating woven bamboo into architectural structures such as wall screens, fences, and basketry-walled granaries. The fabric arts group documented weaving practices, indigo dying, embroidery, the making and use of clothing, and silk production. The basketry group was able to document the making of an elaborate basket from start to finish (in photographs, video, notes, interviews), inventory baskets found in two households, and document over fifty basketry types in active use. This group also interviewed a basket trader, recording the full range of types in his inventory with names, prices, uses, and other data.

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Bamboo harvested and stored for use in basket making at the home of Li Guicai in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

The third project team, comprised of members of the AMGX staff with assistance from the Baiku Yao ecomuseum staff focused on documenting the work of the project as a whole, with the goal of being in a position to produce articles and documentary video chronicling the work of the international partnership. The three American museums also each made collections during the course of this work.

Much was learned and many questions for future research have been identified. The research concluded with travel to Nanning and, for the Americans, home to the US beginning on the 18th. In final post(s) I will share a richer glimpse of Baiku Yao cultural life and the people whom we we met.

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Jon Kay (R) and Li Guicai (L) at Mr. Li’s home in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

References Cited

Dewhurst, C. Kurt. 2017. “Building Connectivity: China-US Folklife Collaborations.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 189-98. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Du, Yunhong. 2017. “Ten Years: China-US Museum Collaborations in Retrospect.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 214-18. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Indiana University. 2013. “IU’s Mathers Museum One of Three U.S. Institutions to Collaborate with Chinese Museums.” Accessed January 16. 2018. http://archive.news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2013/11/mathers-museum-collaboration.shtml

Lloyd, Tim. 2017. “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” AFS News. June 12, 2017. http://www.afsnet.org/news/349609/The-Inside-Story-of-the-AFS-China-US-Project.htm

MacDowell, Marsha. 2017. “Reflections on Collaborations: The Quilts of Southwest China Project.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 199-207. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

——— and Lijun Zhang, eds.The Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning: Guangxi Museum of Nationalities and Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Xie, Mohua. 2017. “My Two Stories.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 208-13. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Zhang, Lijun. 2017. “My Involvement in the Museum Exchange Projects.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 221-27. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture

Just in time for the holiday that is at its center, I am happy to trumpet the publication of Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture by Gabrielle Berlinger. Framing Sukkot is the third title in the Material Vernaculars series and it is appearing in the world just as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is about to begin for 2017/5778!

Here is how Indiana University Press introduces Professor Berlinger’s new book:

The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.

In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.

As I noted in discussing the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds last fall, it is my hope that many readers will purchase a beautiful paper or hardback edition of Framing Sukkot, thereby helping support the work of a great university press. One of the things that makes IU Press great is its commitment to building strategies for free and open access to scholarly writings. The Material Vernaculars series, co-published with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, is part of that commitment. So, first let me note that you can buy copies of the book from a range of online booksellers, including Amazon and the IU Press itself. Secondly, let me show you where the free digital edition of the book lives. Hopefully by the time Sukkot ends, people around the world will be reading this great new book.

To access the free PDF version, click on the image below or go to this URL https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/21232

Once you are there, click on the “View/Open” link as shown in the image. Clicking should enable you to download a copy of the book.

Dr. Berlinger is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is also the Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Fellow in Jewish History and Culture within the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. In addition to the new book, you can find a moving Sukkot-oriented post by Dr. Berlinger on the IU Press blog.

Check out Framing Sukkot!

On the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names; AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

While some have a deep history (library classifications, for instance), controlled vocabularies of diverse sorts are relatively new and some play an increasingly important role in a range of domains relevant to my work. One vocabulary that I am especially appreciative of in the context of present work is the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN). In the preceding phase (2013-2016) of the joint project linking the China Folklore Society and American Folklore Society, the American participants in the museum-based sub-project visited a large number of rural communities in Southwest China. (We also hosted our Chinese colleagues in community visits in the United States.)

If one is visiting (being taken to) a lot of places quickly and one does not speak or read the local or national languages, it is easy to become unsure where you are and what communities you are visiting (or have visited). Sorting through this afterwards can be an added challenge if, after the fact, one realizes (as in rural China), there can be as many as ten or twenty villages or towns with the same name in the same province (hence the custom in Chinese contexts of referring to towns and their counties and/or in relationship to the administrative center of which it is a part). The Getty TGN helps by providing a unique identifier (a number) for places all around the world. Here is an example.

Shuanglang, a large village (now a town, really) on Erhai Lake, near Dali in Yunnan province is one of (at least) three Chinese places called Shuanglang appearing in the TGN. The other two are in Guangxi. It is 8471685. In addition to its ID number, the TGN provides latitude and longitude coordinates for it, the name in Chinese characters, its status in a place hierarchy from, the sources used and other useful information. The coordinates can be plugged into Google Maps and used in other ways.

The ID number can be used to tag or code images, such as the following photograph (Figure 1) taken when our group visited Shuanglang in December 2013 on a trip led by our hosts at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.

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(Figure 1: 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang] has become popular with urban Chinese tourists. Local restaurants compete for their business by showing off their freshest produce on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant proper. Potential patrons can ask proprietors about ingredients and the dishes that might be fashioned from them. )

In Shuanglang, I purchased some Chinese baskets for the first time for the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The Getty TGN ID can be added to the catalogue records for these baskets as a way of conveying the location from which they were obtained with precision (Figure 2).

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(Figure 2: These baskets were collected in 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang]. The baskets on the left are now in the collection of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The pack basket and bassinet on the right were collected by a fellow project participant.)

Improving the accuracy of important records and enhancing their discoverability—in this case, tagging photographs and strengthening museum catalogue records are two of the kinds of uses that vocabularies such as the TGN are designed to facilitate. I appreciate the work that the Getty Institute invests in building, maintaining, and improving the TGN on behalf of the cultural heritage community.

Speaking of controlled vocabularies, close readers of Museum Anthropology Review may have noticed that several years ago we began working with authors of full articles to associate relevant terms from the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus (AFS ET). As noted on its website, “the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus is a vocabulary that can be used to improve access to information about folklore, ethnomusicology, ethnology, and related fields. The American Folklore Society developed the AFS ET in cooperation with the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and supported by a generous grant from the Scholarly Communications Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” The AFS ET is accessible from the Linked Data Service at the Library of Congress: http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/ethnographicTerms.html

Having linked my two example photographs to their TGN ID, I should go ahead an close with some AFS ET terms.

Figure 1 can have: restaurants; marketing; vegetables
Figure 2 can have: basketscollection acquisitions (collection development); bamboo textiles

CFP: Museum Anthropology Futures

On behalf of the Council for Museum Anthropology, I am happy to pass along the call for proposals for the Museum Anthropology Futures conference in Montreal this May. Find details below. (Quoted material follows, contact the organizers with questions or concerns.)

Call for Session Proposals: “Museum Anthropology Futures” Conference (due March 1)
Council for Museum Anthropology Inaugural Conference

May 25-27, 2017 at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Council for Museum Anthropology is seeking submissions for its inaugural conference taking place in Montreal from May 25-27, 2017. This will not be your traditional conference experience! “Museum Anthropology Futures” seeks to spark critical reflection and discussion on (1) the state of museum anthropology as an academic discipline; (2) innovative methods for the use of collections; (3) exhibition experiments that engage with anthropological research; and (4) museums as significant sites for grappling with pressing social concerns such as immigration, inequality, racism, colonial legacies, heritage preservation, cultural identities, representation, and creativity as productive responses to these.

The conference will have several sessions each day that all participants will attend, as well as one period each day with breakout sessions like workshops and formats that would benefit from a more intimate setting for dialogue and collaboration.
We are seeking session proposals that are different than the usual call for papers – see session descriptions below. Feel free to email us with questions at museumfutures2017@gmail.com.

Updates available at our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MuseumFutures/

Email your session proposal to museumfutures2017@gmail.com by March 1, 2017

Please provide the following information in your email text, no attachment:

1) Your name, title, home institution (if applicable), and email address
2) Your proposed session format (see below)
3) The title of your session
4) Additional session participants if a group submission (title and email address)
5) A description of your session (max 150 words) Specific requirements for each format below.
6) What you hope to achieve in presenting/participating in this session (1-3 sentences)
7) What you believe this session can contribute to museum futures (1-3 sentences)
***Please note: Some Workshops and Pre-circulated Paper sessions will be by registration only due to limited capacity. All other sessions are open to all conference participants. For example, Roundtable or PechaKucha sessions will have several presenters who discuss their work, and the audience attending the session is invited to listen and ask questions or give feedback.***

SESSION FORMATS
Read more

Get Oriented to Themester 2016: Beauty

Reviewing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures events and exhibitions pages is probably the only way to get a full sense of all that we are doing for 2016 Themester, but for an overview of Themester as a whole and its focus on Beauty, I recommend checking out yesterday’s kickoff press release (Figure 1). In addition to the MMWC pages, it would also be great to see the Themester website. For MMWC, Themester boils down to three great classes [A400, E460, F360] taught at the museum, three great beauty-focused exhibitions [Costume, Hózhó, Siyazama], plus a lot of programming, including folk artists residencies throughout the semester, as well as films, lectures, and hands-on activities. Check out the full list here. Thanks go to the College of Arts and Sciences for including the museum in an impressive roster of Themester activities. Thanks too go to the students who are helping us organize our Themester activities and to the artists and tradition bearers whose work we are highlighting. Please join it this remarkable exploration of beauty around the world.

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Figure 1: The Themester 2016 press release, which leads off with a photography b MMWC Consulting Curator Pravina Shukla, from her exhibition Costume.

Material Vernaculars Series Launches with Jon Kay’s Folk Art and Aging

This fall I will be talking a lot about the new book series that the Indiana University Press and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures are jointly publishing. I am the series’ editor and my friend and colleague Jon Kay is its first author. I will frame the series here, before I conclude this post, but I do not want to bury the lead, which is that there is a great new book in the world and you should buy and learn from it.

Jon Kay is Director of Traditional Arts Indiana, Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, and Professor of Practice in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University. His book is Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and Their Makers. (Jon’s content rich book website is here.) It is the fruit of many years of work exploring the creative lives of older adults in Indiana and in other parts of the United States. Jon has much to say about the ways that material culture and narrative come together in social encounters and in unfolding lives, as well as about about the ways that more attentive scholarship on the verbal and material life, as well as the memory, work, of elders can shape more humane and sensible approaches to what is increasingly referred to as creative aging, as well as to social gerontology more generally. The book is a folklorist’s book, but it also speaks very generatively to a range of neighboring disciplines. Written in a very clear and engaging style, it is the kind of book that lots of people (not just scholars) can read and both enjoy and learn from. At its center are profiles of five incredibly interesting creators of objects, stories, and lives. Jon helps share their stories and their creations in a really engaging way. The book has many beautiful color images and at 133 pages, it never gets bogged down.

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The hardback, paperback, and ebook editions are beautiful and they can be purchased from the Indiana University Press, from Amazon, from Google, and from many other retailers. I’ll tell you next time where to get the free PDF edition, but here I want to urge everyone who can to purchase one of the paper or ebook editions. Why? Paradoxically, because I believe in open access. If those who can do so purchase the modestly priced print or e-book editions, the IU Press will secure the revenue that it needs to produce more books such as Folk Art and Aging and to make them freely available to those who otherwise could not afford to purchase them. More on such questions next time.

Having introduced Folk Art and Aging to you, let me introduce the series quickly. The series précis reads:

The Material Vernaculars series presents ethnographic, historical, and comparative accounts of material and visual culture manifest in both the everyday and extraordinary lives of individuals and communities, nations and networks. While advancing a venerable scholarly tradition focused on the makers and users of hand-made objects, the series also addresses contemporary practices of mediation, refashioning, recycling, assemblage, and collecting in global and local contexts. Indiana University Press publishes the Material Vernaculars series in partnership with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at Indiana University. The series accommodates a diversity of types of work, including catalogues and collections studies, monographs, edited volumes, and multimedia works. The series will pursue innovative publishing strategies intended to maximize access to published titles and will advance works that take fullest advantage of the affordances provided by digital technologies.

The series second title is an eponymous edited volume—Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. That collection is due out in a few days (September 5, 2016). In its introduction, I characterize in more detail the goals of the series as well as situate its disciplinary (cultural anthropology, folklore studies, ethnology, culture history) engagements as well as its place in the larger research work of the MMWC. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Congratulations to Jon Kay on his second book of the summer (see Indiana Folk Art) and to all of our friends at the Indiana University Press.

Open Access Book: Indiana Folk Arts

IFA CoverThis year is a big year for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in a number of respects. Two of these weave together. Its the state bicentennial for Indiana and we are engaging with it in a big way through the exhibition Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation. That exhibition is now traveling across Indiana along with with a deep roster of presenting artists and craftspeople. The exhibition and associated in-person demonstrations are happening at state parks and festivals around Indiana and the exhibition will also be presented at the Indiana State Fair, later this summer. The exhibition brings together more than a decade of research by Traditional Arts Indiana and was also an project worked on by the Laboratory in Public Folklore graduate course taught in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Working with TAI Director and MMWC Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage Jon Kay, a large number of students have been involved in all aspects of the exhibition and associated programs, products, and events.

2016 is also slated to be a big year for book publishing at MMWC. We have a number of books in the cue for fall. The first to become available is the catalogue for Indiana Folk Arts. Edited by Jon Kay with chapters authored by a large and talented group of graduate students, the volume enriches the exhibition while also standing alone as a contribution to scholarship on Indiana craft and art. At exhibition events and here at the MMWC, the book is being distributed for free in a beautiful full-color print edition. In keeping with our institutional commitment to increased and open access to scholarship, the volume is also available electronically and permanently via the IUScholarWorks Respository. Licensed under a CC-BY license, it can be found online here: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20893. Its the first MMWC publication for which we obtained an ISBN number (two actually, one for the print edition and one for the PDF edition), which is also pretty neat.IFA Front Page

Congratulations to Jon Kay, the volume’s editor, to all of its contributors, and to the talented artists, craftspeople, and tradition bearers featured in the book. Welcome readers–72 beautiful pages await you, wherever in the world you live. If you like the book and support the work behind it, spread it widely. Tell your friends and colleagues so that they can enjoy it too.

Two Euchee (Yuchi) Baskets in the Collections of the Philbrook Museum of Art

The basketry traditions of the Native South have experienced divergent histories from a common regional tradition of work basketry. Among the North Carolina Cherokee, for instance, the indigenous river cane basketry tradition was augmented with the adoption of an old European white oak splint basketry practice and a more modern vine runner basketry practice using Japanese honeysuckle. The two older traditions are focused on workbasket forms, even as these have increasingly become works of art and heritage appreciated as aesthetically compelling collectables rather than tools of labor. The vine runner basketry made in honeysuckle added graceful forms intended by their makers to be visually appreciated more than used for rough labor. The richness of Cherokee basket making, up to the present, has been facilitated through an arts and crafts market fostered by the location of the Eastern Cherokee community in a key tourism destination at the eastern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While workbaskets were, for a time during the early 20th century, presented for sale to outsiders among the Florida Seminole, Florida Seminole basketry shifted in that century to decorative craft baskets made from coiled sweet grass. As in Cherokee, North Carolina, these baskets were crafted with non-Seminole tourist-collectors in mind.

Not all Southern Native communities reside in locales where tourism and tourist craft markets could foster (and reshape) local basketry practice. In many native communities, local baskets were used less and less for work—replaced by commercial containers—and thereby they became less and less common, as did knowledge of their construction and use. In some contemporary Native communities, a commitment to revitalize tribal cultures has more recently led to a renewal of basketry practices, not so much for external consumption but as heritage endeavors celebratory of local traditions. This dynamic is found among the Catawba (ex: “Catawba Indian basket maker revives almost-lost ancient tradition”) and among numerous groups—such as the Chickasaw—who have begun regularly organizing basketry classes (ex: “Chickasaw Nation to host basket weaving class”).

While revivals of the sort that numerous communities are pursuing can be initiated in the near or distant future, there are some communities in which basketry has quietly fallen into obsolescence. As with heritage languages, we might describe basketry in such communities as “sleeping”—especially when extant baskets are present in museums and some ethnographic documentation of basket making or use has been made. As with “sleeping languages,” sleeping basketry traditions are capable of being revitalized, especially when knowledge can be gained from basket makers among neighboring peoples sharing similar practices.

While they are an extraordinarily vital community in many other ways, sleeping describes the present state of basketry among the Euchee (Yuchi) people now residing in Tulsa, Creek, and Okmulgee Counties in (present-day) Oklahoma. (For the remainder of this note, I will just use the “Euchee” spelling.) To my knowledge, eight Euchee baskets are curated in museum collections. Then a Ph.D. student in anthropology, Frank G. Speck collected five Euchee baskets in the Sand Creek tribal town near Bristow, Indian Territory in 1904. These were purchased with funds from the American Museum of Natural History and are preserved in its collections. They can be studied in the AMNH’s online database and were discussed in Speck’s Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, a book-length study that is now freely accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive (see pages 31-34). [If consulting the AMNH database, see numbers 50 / 5368, 50 / 5369, 50 / 5370, 50 / 5371, and 50 / 5372]

One Euchee basket is cared for by the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. (I hope to report on it later.)

Of interest here are two baskets close to the present-day Euchee community, at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These two baskets (I believe, the only ones in Oklahoma museum collections) are significant in a number of ways that I will narrate here.

They are, to my knowledge, the most recently collected baskets from among the Euchee. Some Euchee families preserve heirloom objects from the past, but I have not been shown or told about old workbaskets in the possession of the Euchee families that I know. There is a chance that these two were among the last in Euchee hands.

They were collected by famed basketry collector Clark Field. One can learn more about Field and his collection in the volume Woven Worlds: Basketry from the Clark Field Collection edited by Lydia L. Wyckoff and published by the Philbrook Musuem of Art. Field collected these two baskets from Johnson Tiger, then living in Kellyville, Oklahoma. [Kellyville is a municipality in the territory of the Yuchi Tribal Town known as Polecat (after nearby Polecat Creek)].

Tiger indicated for Field that the first of the baskets (catalog number 1963.13.2) was made by his grandfather George Fulsom and dated to 1875. George Fulsom was age 57 at the time of the 1910 census and thus he was born around 1853. If the basket was actually crafted in 1875, this would have been when George Fulsom was about 22 years of age. Field paid Tiger $27.50 for the basket in 1962, which would be about $218 in 2016 dollars. (As noted below, it may be that this amount was the price paid for both baskets.)

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Euchee tray or fanner basket of river cane. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandfather George Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.2. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

This plaited basket is made of river cane, the primary material out of which baskets were historically made in the Native South, but a plant that was and is increasingly rare generally and that is particularly rare on the western edge of its range in Oklahoma. Like most of the known Euchee baskets, this example was one of two fundamental tools used in processing corn for food. (It could be used, of course, for other activities, including other food processing ones.) With a solid bottom, this kind of basket was used to both catch grain falling through a sifter (sieve) basket and for fanning grain that has been pounded (or ground) so as to separate the grain from the chaff.

As J. Marshall Gettys has noted, this basket is interesting because it is made of rivercane (the region’s old material) but it has a reinforced rim assembled in a style more common in European American basketry styles. In river cane trays or sifters in the South, a braided rim (as found in the second basket, below) would be more common (Gettys 2001:182).

The second basket was likely long used as a pair with the first one. It (catalog number 1963.13.3) is a sifter basket or sieve. Johnson Tiger told Field that Fannie Fulsom, his grandmother and the wife of George Fulsom, made this basket. As with the first basket, he dated it to 1875. According to the 1910 census, Fannie Fulsom was 45 in 1910, indicating that she was born around 1865. If this is correct and if the basket were made in 1875, then she would have been age ten at the time of its manufacture. While it is possible a ten-year-old made it, my intuition is that it was either made at a later (but still probably nineteenth century) date or by a different maker. Like all of the other Euchee baskets in museum collections, this (and the other Philbrook basket) shows extensive wear from practical use. Especially noteworthy is the way that the basket was patched with cloth strips. Because they are woven with evenly sized openings in their bases (bottoms), sifter baskets are more fragile than fully woven trays, such as the other Philbrook basket.

IMG_5454

Euchee sifter basket or sieve in river cane style but made with hardwood splints, probably hickory. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandmother Fannie Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.3. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

The Philbrook records do not preserve a purchase price for the second basket. It is possible, but unproven, that the price recorded for the first basket was a price for both baskets.

While this basket has a braided rim in the region’s aboriginal style, it is made not of river cane but of narrow splints of hardwood (probably hickory). My interpretation of this material is that it represents an Indian Territory (/Oklahoma) adaptation in a setting in which river cane was difficult to obtain. To my knowledge, it is only in Oklahoma that we find Southern river cane-based forms produced in materials other than river cane. Elsewhere in the South, newer materials were utilized in altered, adopted, or innovated forms.

Euchee basket making may continue to sleep. If it does, that should not be taken to mean that Euchee people lack appreciation for the baskets, basket making, and the basket-using of their ancestors. Elders I have known, from the 1990s to the present, have often recalled memories of how baskets such as these were used. These stories were never simply for my benefit. They are regularly shared with audiences of younger Euchee people. The tellers of such stories are eager to preserve a memory of past Euchee ways of life. The moral of such stories often center on how hard older Euchee people worked to care for their families and communities and how they possessed and use specialized cultural knowledge to sustain a rich and self-sufficient social life in the face of hardships and limited financial resources. In the late 1990s, I worked with cultural leaders from the Euchee community to organize an exhibition at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. For this exhibition, two of the AMNH baskets were lent and displayed. Euchee elders noted how well-worn these baskets were. This prompted not only an appreciation for their industry of their ancestors, but also laughter at the thought that the baskets unnamed Euchee owners turned a nice profit selling end-of-life, totally worn out, baskets to an earnest young scholar from the East. They also appreciated the fact that some Euchee work baskets still existed in the world and would thus be available for future generations to see and appreciate. These thoughts apply, I think, to the two baskets that Johnson Tiger sold to Clark Field in 1962.

Thank you to my friend Christina Burke, Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art for letting me spend time with these two baskets, not once but twice. Thanks also to the Euchee elders who have shared their people’s past and present with me.

Osage Weddings Project Website Launched

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Still/Moving: Puppets and Indonesia Lecture and Exhibition Opening

Still/Moving Lecture & Exhibition Invite

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