Basket with Checkerboard Patterning. Arizona. Western Apache. Ca. 1890. Willow, devil’s claw, Joshua tree root. Anonymous gift. Photo by Bruce M. White

Baskets were one of the first art forms in the Americas, with basket fragments found in California and the Southwest dating to 9,400 years ago.

Over the millennia, native North Americans developed elaborate techniques and intricate designs worked in local materials, from sweetgrass in Florida to black ash in the Northeast and deer grass in California, among many others. These materials were sacred to their makers and those who used these special containers. So too was the way each was made with coiling, symbolizing for many groups the path of human emergence from inside earth and the movement of the spirits between realms.

This display in the Art of the Americas galleries explores the intersection between material, making, and meaning in the fragile basketry art of the Southeast to the Southwest and up into the Arctic.