Mitchell Museum
of the American Indian

3001 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201
847.475.1030


Baskets at Work: Utilitarian Baskets from

the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

Opened September 18, 2010

Baskets have been made and used by many cultures throughout the world from ancient times through the present day. In American Indian cultures, baskets ranged from sacred ceremonial objects to household tools. The 21 baskets on display are examples of utilitarian baskets that played a major role in the gathering, production, and storage of food.

Generally, women were responsible for food production as well as for making the baskets that they used. Even though the baskets were functional and were often used until they fell apart, they were created with a simple beauty and elegant design, as well as generations of fine-tuned technique.


The style and decoration of the baskets vary by region and tribe, but there are common shapes and uses. The baskets on display have been organized into three groups: baskets for gathering, baskets for the processing of food, and baskets used for storage. Also included are birch bark containers that were used in the gathering, processing, and storage of food.

The foods that American Indians prepared and ate changed as raw ingredients and access to traditional food sources were controlled by the United States government within the reservation system. New crops were introduced and government approved rations were distributed to relocated peoples. Cheaper alternatives to baskets, like metal and plastic containers, became readily available and baskets for food production became obsolete. However, baskets continue to be made to sell to tourists and collectors, celebrating a traditional use but fulfilling a modern need.

Installation by Anne Coats

 

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