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November 30, 2012

It's All Connected: California Basketry, Cultural Context, and Museum Conservation | Conclusion

In 2009 and 2010, basketweaver Deborah McConnell (Hoopa/Yurok/Quinault); cultural heritage specialist Robert McConnell (Yurok); and Briannon Fraley (Tolowa), a former summer intern at the National Museum of the American Indian, joined members of the museum's Conservation Office in a program centered on Northern California basketry and its broader cultural context. This is the last post in a series that presents multiple perspectives on their collaboration. To read earlier posts in the series, see:

1. Introduction to the Project, Acknowledgments & Contributors 
2. NMAI Internship Programs 
3. The Collections Visit, Consultation & Workshop
4. Practices and Beliefs 
5. The Visit to Northern California 

 

002182_1000
Hupa na´wehch (Jump Dance basket), ca. 1880. California. Yew wood, maidenhair fern, bear grass, spruce root, hide, woodpecker feather, sinew, paint; 65 x 10 x 7 cm. 2182. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI.


When Deborah and Robert McConnell and Briannon Fraley came to the museum to conduct a basketry consultation and workshop their goal was to introduce conservation fellows and interns to the greater context of baskets in Native cultures. Consultants and conservators connected through the materials and processes as basketry techniques were taught in a hands-on workshop. The opportunity to share museum experiences and methodologies, such as storage, cleaning, re-shaping, and repair, was also of interest to Ms. McConnell and Ms. Fraley. The workshop provided a fertile environment for an exchange of ideas that may lead to new treatment solutions incorporating Native expertise, which has often been overlooked. 

The conservators' understanding of basketry's cultural context was further enhanced through a visit to Northern California to experience current cultural issues, the socio-political environment, and land management/resources challenges, all of which impact basketry production today. Conveying the interconnectedness of a museum object and the culture that craeted it is paramount to understanding: There is more to a basket than just materials and techniques.

Asked to assess the value of this educational experience, Anne Gunnison, an Andrew W. Mellon fellow in the Conservation Office from 2008 to 2010, commented:

Not only participating in the consultation with Ms. Fraley, Ms. McConnell, and Mr. McConnell at NMAI, but also attending the California Indian Basketweavers Association gathering in Ione, California, and being invited to the Brush Dance and to visit Hoopa, was an invaluable experience. This opportunity was made possible by the mandate of conservation programming at NMAI and by the generosity of the McConnells and Ms. Fraley, who were so willing to share their own experiences and comprehensive knowledge of the physical and cultural landscape of Northern California. It has underscored the importance of forging and fostering relationships and partnerships in order to best approach the conservation and care of Native American cultural material in museums and institutions. It is my intention, following my time at NMAI, to develop similar types of relationships with invested community constituents to guide my work in the care of collections.  

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Briannon Fraley weaving a basket at home. Hoopa, California, June 2010. Photo by Marian Kaminitz, NMAI.

 

"Basketry: It's All Connected" was originally presented in September 2010 at a basketry workshop organized by the Institute of Conservation

To read more short essays by the NMAI Conservation Office staff, fellows, and interns, scroll through the Conservation archive on the NMAI blog.

The museum's website includes further information about the Conservation Office, including outreachresearchstaff publications, and training, including internships and fellowships. 

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