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Basketry

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Basket

13 1/2 x 15 x 15 in. (34.3 x 38.1 x 38.1 cm)

Unknown, Skokomish
Native American

Object Type: Basketry
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Henry A. Strong
Accession Number: 1922.26
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Location: Not currently on view


Narrative
This is part of a letter written by Lucretia Cushman, the collector of the basket:

Letter from Lucretia J. Cushman

A double motive prompted me to attend Ann's potlatch, not alone to witness the interesting ceremonies but with the fond hope that I might by the merest chance - with so many Indians coming together - find an old Skokomish basket - with the original fog or ladder pattern. I had gone to the Skokomish Reservation eight years before (1892) in search of this specimen and after a thoro search from one end of the reservation to the other without success was laughed at by the Indians for thinking I could find one; was told that Rev. Myron Eells who spent many years on the Reservation as agent - sent the last old basket of weave and pattern to the Smithsonian Institution.
While walking around among the tents at Anns' potlatch I paused to talk to an old Indian sitting outside of his tent, who told me that both he and his kloochman (A "kloochman" or klutchman is a Caucasian wed to a Native American - derogatory term) belonged to the Skokomish tribe but for many years had lived at Port Madison, a milling port near Seattle. I glanced inside the tent and past his wife (or kloochman) sitting near the entrance, when my eyes lit upon the very basket - I had long sought - without further ado, I strode past her and picked up the basket and tried to bargain for it; she became greatly excited and took it away from me gesticulating and jabbering in her dialect trying to convince me that the contents of the basket belonged to her and no one else. Whereupon I took the basket and emptied the contents which consisted of a loaf of very dry bread, a fish and clams, a comb and brush and piece of muslin. I tried to explain to her that I did not wish the contents but that I did very much covet and desire the basket itself. She laughed hysterically when it dawned upon her what I wanted and pointed out imperfections in the basket and called me a 'dilati hi-ac pilton' (a great big fool) for wanting the old basket - told me that her great grandmother made it when a young girl at her death it went to her mother, then to herself at her mother's death; making the basket easily one hundred years old. She talked of the pattern and dyes and only convinced me of what I already knew of both, making my wish more than ever to possess it; she finally named a price, which I promptly paid, making her a gift of an extra ???? I picked up the basket and in spite of the foregoing compliment paid me by her - almost -not quite - embraced her as I was leaving the tent. When she suddenly snatched the basket from me and held it in close embrace then handed it back to me, not waiting for any more fond adieus, I quickly and ???? wended my way homeward, fearing the kloochman might experience a change of heart - then too my feet were treading on air making it impossible to tarry longer that day at the potlatch. For days I could not believe that my fondest hopes had been realized and that I was the actual possessor of a genuinely old Skokomish basket of the original pattern and dyes. It is the gem of my collection in old ivory shade from age the pattern in soft shades of brown and yellow, only root and bark dye were used for these shades. The story or legend of the fog or ladder pattern is that a young weaver went to the foothills of the Olympia mountains to gather grass for a basket, also for inspiration for a pattern depending wholly as they did upon nature for ideas and seeing as she looked back down the mountain side banks of fog having the appearance of steps of a ladder - she tried to reproduce the effect - upon her basket and certainly she must have put her very soul into her work else she could not have woven a basket so artistic and beautiful. If it had not been tucked away in this obscure milling town where the Indians, or which people had never heard of commerce in baskets it would have long ago graced a museum on an eastern coast instead of my modest collection at home. Certainly no other guest at Ann's potlatch was made happier than I was with my wonderful discovery and addition to my collection.


Provenance
Lucretia Cushman (nee Johnson), Tacoma, Washington; sold to Mrs. Henry A. Strong, Rochester, New York; given to the Gallery in 1922

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