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Indian Baskets Attract Different Market

January 30, 1985|Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Sales to the non-Indian public probably will determine how long Southwest Indians continue to weave baskets, says Clara Lee Tanner, an authority on the region's native crafts.

"The miracle of it all is that basketry has survived, for in a vast majority of cases the Southwest Indians no longer use the products of their tribal basket weavers," she said.

Metal pots and pans and glassware have taken their place.

But she doesn't look for basket-making to die out.

"Some of the Hopis are getting marvelous prices now--as much as $2,000 for new baskets," she said. "But the Apaches have practically ceased making first-class baskets. The Papagos are producing more than they ever have and other tribes much less or none.

"However, in general, the production now is for commercial sale only, and very little is for use at home."

Tanner, at 78, speaks from nearly 60 years' experience studying the crafts of the Southwest Indians.

She retired six years ago after 50 years of teaching anthropology at the University of Arizona and her 10th book, "Indian Baskets of the Southwest," has been published by the University of Arizona Press.

Basket weaving historically has been the craft of women and Tanner says she knows of only one man who did it commercially.

Virtually all of the new baskets are home-produced, just as the old ones were.

"The same fundamental elements and units were used by most tribes--squares, rectangles, lines and bands, triangles, diamonds, zigzags and circles," she said.

"But what has been most fascinating to me is that no two designs are the same. There is a superstition that if two baskets are made the same, the ability to make them is taken from you."

There are three major weaves, she said: plaiting, the simplest, which involves crossing of materials at right angles; wicker, in which the vertical elements cross the horizontal ones, and the coiled technique.

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