Come Try Your Hand at Basket-Weaving
Do you weave? Some of the most common questions we get at the museum are about basket-weaving. People are fascinated by the techniques and colors, the patterns and sizes, the varied looks and uses of baskets. And when we have a hands-on weaving activity, everyone wants to give it a try.
As a result, we decided early on in brainstorming about the new Family Activity Center that we had to do something with weaving. After all, communities all across the Western Hemisphere—from Alaska and Canada in the north, to Tierra del Fuego in the south—weave. Baskets from very different places may look the same, because they are constructed of similar materials and made for similar purposes. Baskets from very nearby places may look very different because they are constructed of very different materials. Indeed, these similarities and differences are found throughout the globe.
In the new Activity Center, you’ll encounter baskets and basket-making traditions from the Western Hemisphere, across three different activities. When you first visit the center, right in front will be a large community basket. Constructed of wood, this basket invites you to weave it. Families can weave together; children can weave on their own. You can contribute just a small piece of weaving, or you can stay for a while and weave the entire basket. In our tests last summer at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and this fall and winter in the museum, children were attracted to this seemingly outrageous basket, with its bright and colorful weaving strands and its humongous size.
Hands-on testing of the community basket during last summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Fun solo or by several people at once? Check. Appealing to a wide range of museum-goers?
Check. Humongous? Check. Photos by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI
Although the basket made for the museum's weaving activity is large, it is not impossibly big or unrealistic. Communities do weave very large baskets for a variety of purposes, mostly for storage.
Many visitors are curious about the process of weaving. How do you start a basket? How do you develop the sides and patterns? What techniques are used? Most baskets use one of three techniques: coiling, plaiting, or twining. We will have a section that shows the different techniques, as well as baskets in various stages of completion, so that you can better understand both the beauty and complexity of the weavers’ art.
The third component is a challenge. Since baskets are made throughout the hemisphere, they are also made from a wide variety of materials, including reeds, grasses, and bark. This activity will not only provide a number of baskets from different indigenous communities that you can handle and touch, but also will include a game to test your knowledge about where the different baskets come from. Good luck!
We also will feature weavers—basket or textile—from time to time in the center, as well as other hands-on activities that highlight baskets and weaving techniques. Most expert weavers begin to learn their craft when they are children. While basket-weaving is often thought of as an art, baskets serve very practical purposes in everyday life. Furthermore, basket-weaving is fun! Come join us and try it yourself. Our next scheduled test session is during the museum's Hawai`i Festival May 21st and 22nd, though you might find the basket out between now and then, as well.
—Amy Van Allen with Vilma Ortiz-Sanchez, education specialist, NMAI