Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Introduction to Baskets

Randall House - Basket,
Gathering, 94.15.1
Following up our #MuseumBasketCases work with Joleen Gordon, Joleen has kindly shared some extra information to assist sites with future enrichment of basket records. This information will be uploaded in the upcoming weeks to our blog, so stay tuned for more helpful information. Today is all about the basics - exactly what is a basket, what can it be made out of, naming protocols, and best photo practices for these artifacts.

What is a basket?
A container used to hold or carry things, typically made by interweaving materials.  In weaving, the weft horizontal threads on a loom pass over and under the vertical warp threads to make cloth.  In basketry, the weft and warp materials have been given different names in the different cultural groups.  

I have added the root-laced bark “quill boxes” because archaeological and first-written records show pre-contact and contact Mi’kmaq wove with plant, animal, bark and root materials.
DesBrisay Museum - Basket,
Gathering, 86.31.2

Materials used for Nova Scotian baskets:
  • Ash: either Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra or White Ash, Fraxinus americana
  • Poplar: Populus balsamifera
  • Sweet Grass: Hierochlöe odorata
  • Spruce: Picea
  • Tamarack/Hackmatack/Juniper: Larix laricina
  • Witherod: Viburnum cassinoides
  • Alder: Alnus rugosa
  • Red Osier Dogwood: Cornus stolonifera
  • Willows: Salix 
  • Red Maple: Acer rubrum.
More information:
Trees of Nova Scotia, A guide to the native and exotic species. Gary L. Saunders. Nova Scotia.  Department of Lands and Forests, 1970.  

Types of baskets

We followed the guidelines in Nomenclature 3.0 for the object names and categories of the records.
West Hants Historical Museum -
Basket, Fancy, 95.1254.2B
The only exception to this is that some baskets, known as "fancy baskets," were entered into the Object Name field as Basket, Fancy. This is not an object name outlined in Nomenclature 3.0 but we felt it was important to give certain baskets this name as this is the proper term in Mi'kmaq culture. 

Many baskets we encountered in databases when beginning this project were simply named "Basket," however many different basket object names are outlined in Nomenclature 3.0. Some popular basket names we included in our data entry were gathering, carrying, picnic, trinket, needlework, and of course fancy, among others.

Photographing Baskets
Since we were working on this project remotely, we were dependent on photo documentation of these basket records. The most helpful aspect museums could offer us was the amount and quality of photographs provided for these records. Having at least one photograph was helpful, and most times it provided us with a relatively good understanding of the basket. However, having multiple photos of varying angles is key with baskets. 

A good rule of thumb is to photograph the basket as-is, at a 45 degree angle (best practice for 3D objects). Photographing the bottom of the basket - inside and outside - is very important as this will indicate how exactly it was made. 
Great shots of the inside detail and
decorative weaving and rim on this
West Hants basket.

Many baskets are made with dyes, but these dyes fade on the outside over time, so it's good to get a shot of the inside to tell if the basket had been dyed. Close-ups of decorative weaving or the rim of the basket (and accompanying lid, if applicable) can be key in determining if the basket is just made of wood or if Sweet Grass or other materials have been added in. As always, trying to get the best possible lighting with an uncluttered background with the basket in focus will help immensely. At times, some baskets were hard to study due to the blurriness or low quality of the photo.

That's all for now! Next time we will be delving into the different culture groups who make baskets in Nova Scotia, starting with the Mi'kmaq. 

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