by Nezka Pfeifer, Curator
The Everhart Museum’s collections never fail to amaze and surprise, and from time to time I am able to spend some time researching a specific object that illustrates the intersection of several elements of our collection. This exquisite basket is a feathered gift basket, made by the Pomo peoples, circa 1900. The Pomo are a Native American nation found throughout the state of California, but concentrated in northern California, including the counties of Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma.
Both men and women made these finely crafted feathered gift baskets, though each group made baskets for different functions and with different methods. Men plaited (braided) baskets for babies, fishing weirs (trap), and bird traps. Women made coiled, twined, and feathered baskets; the former were used for cooking and storing food, and the latter for special ceremonies and gifts.
The designs were inspired by dreams and therefore imbued with spiritual power. They were also woven with a Dau: a small opening in the pattern created by a small change to the stitching; this is also called the Spirit Door, which allows good spirits to come in and circulate in the basket and releases the other spirits.
Originally made for use by members of the Pomo nation, these types of feathered baskets were being made specifically for sale to tourists by the late 1800s, and could command a high price as an art collectible, as they took a great deal of time to produce. Today, Pomo peoples continue their basket making traditions but have adapted and changed their techniques to create unique artworks that are highly valued as cultural heritage and expression.
Many of the materials used to make this basket are also found in our collections, including plants, birds, and rocks. The Pomo used a variety of plants for their baskets, including swamp cane, saguaro cactus, rye grass, black ash, redbud, willow shoots, and sedge roots.
The feathers in the basket come from these birds: Mallard (dark green iridescent), Western Meadowlark (yellow spotted), Northern Oriole, Western Bluebird, and California Quail.
The Pomo had an elaborate numbering system and were known as the money-traders, trading beads of magnesite and clamshell beads, such as the ones found around hanging as pendants around the edge of this basket. We have examples of magnesite in our rocks and minerals collection.
The Everhart Museum is unique as well; it is wonderful as a curator to have so many diverse collections to unite and interpret in a variety of ways. I always enjoy exploring so many different materials to bring forth current research and relevant information on our natural and cultural heritage.