Luis Rodriguez, below, is a student in master basketweaver Abe Sanchez’s whole rod juncus basketweaving class at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum. Luis is also the museum’s Education Specialist for the Community Outreach Programs. He’s wearing a Día de los Muertos shirt in honor of the festivities which he helped organize at the Palm Springs Art Museum a few blocks away, where he constructed a beautiful altar as a floor installation.
Open weave baskets were used for gathering berries, nuts, acorns, flowers, etc., and were often quickly woven at the gathering site.
Luis and the other students are using the juncus Abe gathered last week-end with his pal, Acjachemen elder, Marian Walkingstick.
Abe brought his most recent and astonishingly beautiful basket to show the class—Rhus trilobata, aka basket sumac, for the coils, juncus and dyed juncus for the patterns, on a foundation of deergrass. The basket is inspired by basketweavers who used cross stitch patterns for their designs. This is the first time Abe used cross stitch patterns for his baskets.
The students’ open-weave whole rod juncus baskets are less complex than Abe’s coiled basket, but I imagine they will be treasured by their weavers.
Teaching classes is a large part several contemporary basketweavers’ commitment to revitalize the indigenous cultural tradition of basketweaving. This revitalization is of critical importance. Until recently, traditional California basketweaving was an endangered art. Yet in the past, nothing else touched indigenous people’s lives so completely. Native Californians used baskets for cooking, sifting acorn meal and serving food, storing water and household goods. They wove harvesting baskets, seed beaters, winnowing baskets, granaries, burden baskets, fish-trapping and fish-netting baskets, cradle-board baskets, intricately woven gift and ceremonial baskets. Some of their houses and ramadas were essentially large woven baskets.
M. Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild discusses this revitalization in comprehensive detail.