Washoe Basket: Cultural Attribution and History

Washoe Basket: Cultural Attribution and History


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Image 1:  Washoe basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections

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Image 2:  Washoe weaver Louisa Keyser with two degikup baskets

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 Image 3:  Photograph of baskets by early 20th century Washoe weaver Maggie James in a variety of degikup forms, including some that are gap-stitched

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Image 4:  Diagram showing gap-stitch coiling technique on a portion of the basket's rim.  Each color represents one row of stitching.  Stitches span two foundation rods (horizontal elements) and are evenly spaced, lining up in vertical columns.  The perpendicular yellow stitching is a decorative finishing technique used on the rim

Image 5:  Oval start as seen on the basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections

The shape of this basket resembles the degikup form that was developed by Washoe basket weaver Louisa Keyser (dat-so-la-lee) in the late 19th century (Image 2). Louisa Keyser was one of the earliest weavers of the style referred to as Washoe fancy basketry, developed for the curio trade under the patronage of Abe and Amy Cohn, who owned a shop in Carson City, Nevada. The early 20th century was marked by a great deal of innovation and experimentation in basket design amongst weavers using variations of the degikup form (Image 3).

However, by the 1930s, the close-stitched constructions that defined the fancy basketry style were gradually replaced by single-rod, gap-stitched baskets that were less time-consuming to produce and still very marketable to tourists and collectors (Image 4). Because the gap-stitched construction limits the design possibilities, it was common for these baskets to be decorated with a pattern of contrasting dark bands.

Based on similarities in appearance and construction, it is likely that this piece is a Washoe basket of this later type. Its attribution is further supported by the oval shape of the basket’s start, which is characteristic of Washoe basketry and distinguishes it from Paiute and Shoshone baskets  (Image 5).

– Nicole Ledoux