Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Basket Making Workshop with Pamunkey Tribe, last Saturday

Last week I spent a good part of my time working on researching Pamunkey and Potomac related basket making techniques.

I went to the Rockefeller Library, which is part of the CW Foundation, and pulled books on Appalachian basket making. The techniques used by Appalachian basket makers are very similar to those of the Pamunkey, and other Virginia Indian groups. They use white oak, which ends in a beautiful, smooth, and natural basket, and durable too.

I spent quite sometime reading about basket making and the history of, including the influence of Indian basketry on Appalachian techniques. Buck chose sections from some of the books to include in a packet we were putting together to distribute to those who attended the class. This included a how-to portion featured in the book Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking, Handing Down the Basket by Rachel Nash Law and Cynthia W. Taylor.

We then copied some photographs from the book Basketry of Appalachian Mountains by Sue H. Stephenson. The images we pulled shows some of the similar technique that we read about in "Indian Notes and Monographs" which was a series of publications discussing Native Americans and First Nations people published int he early 1900s (1915-1925, etc) by the Heye Foundation (which was the original foundation for the National Museum of the American Indian). Anthropologist Frank Speck spent time exploring and living with Native Virginian Indians and wrote an article about the Rappahannock Indians, a tribe that traditionally fell under Powhatan's rule in the 16th century etc. Many of these related Virginian tribal communities have some similar craft styles, so we were able to take the small group of information featured in his document and include that into the packet. This document also featured some images of Pamunkey/Rappahannock basket makers.

Speck featured images, and most importantly some documentation in regards to a special type of rim weaving that is only see in Virginia Indian basketry, something even more specific among Pamunkey weavers.

We also took another article by Speck from another one of the "Notes and Monographs" series, discussing the Powhatan Tribes, which featured information on Pamunkey basketry.

I did some research through various museum websites in regards to baskets in collections. I emailed Crista Pack at the Eiteljorg as to any related basketry that they might have, but nothing was really related to what I was seeking. I did, however, find some baskets on the NMAI website that related to what we were looking for:

This basket was collected by Frank Speck back in the 10s/20s, and came from Potomac Creek, Stafford Co. Virginia. He says that it was made by the "Potomac Bank of Powatans" and that it is a large carrying basket of white oak splints. I'm not too savvy with explaining the aspects of basketry, but, the rim of the basket features a technique with those extra pieces of oak going down to hold the rim down, does that make sense? I'm not sure if it does..but, I'm not a basket expert.

We were also trying to learn more about fish/eel trap baskets that were made in the region. Here is an example, made by Gordon Bullock (c. 1925), which is from Stafford Co., VA, and is also made of white oak splints, from the Potomac community.

This is also in the collection at the NMAI.

We also included directions on basketmaking, provided by our basket making artisans here at CW, and a few things from the books mentioned above.

Buck then took all this information, some of the books, etc, and visited the Pamunkey Reservation last weekend, Saturday, and they hosted a workshop on traditional basket making. I was unable to attend, but Buck said it went well, with a great turnout and a lot of inspiration.

Here are some photos, compliments of Buck Woodard of the American Indian Initiative program here at Colonial Williamsburg:

All these pictures were taking at the Pamunkey Reservation:

Splitting the log, etc, from the white oak trees.

And then the process begins....

And the final product!!

The American Indian Initiative is working with Native communities, locally and beyond, to bring together community members to work together to instill traditional crafts, techniques, and history. This is just one of the many workshops planned off site from CW, which helps to not only reintroduce or work to perfect traditions within communities, but also helps to build a better rapport, relationship and strength between CW's Indian programming and Native communities near and far.

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