The Role of Collaboration in Art Conservation
Image 1: A northwest coast basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections prior to conservation by a UCLA/Getty Master's student
Image 2: A close-up image of the basket next to a diagram of the cockleshell weave and the strawberry weave
Image 3: Tlingit baskets are woven upright while Haida baskets are woven upside down. Due to this, the jog created with a change in stitch or color is characteristic. The "jog-down" in the basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections is usually attributed to the Tlingit.
Image 4: A close-up image of the stitches on the basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections
Through examining an object, a conservator may learn a great deal about its tangible or physical properties, such as materials used, manufacturing techniques, and issues of damage. However, this examination may not reveal its intangible or non-physical properties, such as cultural use or where it was made. By collaborating with experts, multiple and varying viewpoints may contribute to understanding the life history of an object.
However, in some cases, a definitive conclusion may not be possible.
Where was this basket made?
This is a common question conservators will ask while examining an artwork or artifact. In the case of this basket, opinions are divided on which part of the Northwest Coast this basket is from and which cultural group made the basket.
"…both the Tlingit and Haida (from Southeast Alaska) used spruce root extensively, as well as the two patterns of dyed decoration: strawberry weave and cockle shell weave" (Image 2).
– Steve Henrickson
Curator, Alaska State Museum
"I would identify this basket as Tlingit…because of the jog-down at the base…" (Image 3).
– Rebecca Andrews
Collections Manager, Burke Museum, Washington
"This basket is probably not from the Tlingit or a neighboring Northwest Coast tribe…I would put it in Oregon or southern Washington."
– Bryn Potter
Independent Curator, Basketry Specialist
BBP Museum Consulting
"If the stitches go up on the left and down on the right, then it is probably Haida" (Image 4).
– Teri Rofkar
Tlingit weaver, Alaska
Cultural attribution of objects with unknown makers is often
difficult and complex. Cultural traditions, such as basketry weaving,
are rarely static and particular to a single group. Intermarriage,
sharing, and borrowing of techniques and designs are common
occurrences. Additionally, baskets have a life of their own. Through
trade and the tourist market, a basket may be created in one region yet
purchased and used in another. This is particularly true of the
Tlingit, who were traders and traveled a great deal. This cycle of
travel and changing of hands may be repeated multiple times throughout
the history of an object. Through research and observation, several
clues may help direct the attribution of an object. In the case of this
basket, the majority of expert opinions indicate it to be from the
Northwest Coast and made by either the Haida or Tlingit. However, one
should keep in mind that consensus was not achieved on which culture the
from. The attribution of objects with unknown makers is an educated
guess, and there is always the possibility of mistaken identification.
– Lily Doan