The Southeastern Indian Basketry Database


In 2000, the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program [LRFP] partnered with Williamson Museum and Northwestern State University of Louisiana [NSU] on the first of several projects to advance understanding and appreciation of American Indian basketry. LRFP initiated a project to photograph and document basketry collections housed at Williamson Museum, a highly significant repository and research facility for American Indian material culture (see below).

This initial documentation effort led to the creation of a database of basketry in the Williamson collections. Stacy Fontenot and Michael Fontenot photographed the collections and created the database with funding from LRFP. To date, 584 baskets have been photographed and placed in the database, with information about weavers and weaving families, tribal locations, materials, form, and technology included.

In 2002, LRFP partnered with Williamson Museum to host the Southeastern Indian Basketry Gathering brought together weavers, museum professionals, state and federal agency representatives, and scholars to share information and discuss programs that could help to conserve important basketry traditions. Results of this interaction were published by LRFP. Proceedings of the Southeastern Indian Basketry Gathering, May 16-17, 2002, can be requested from Sheila Richmond at no cost. The gathering and publication were supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

Building upon the interest generated by participants in the gathering, LRFP and Williamson Museum partnered again in 2006 to publish The Work of Tribal Hands: Southeastern Indian Split Cane Basketry, edited by Dayna Bowker Lee and H. F. Gregory, and published by Northwestern State University Press. This volume includes essays by weavers, scholars, and program administrators that address the history and future of split cane basketry. This publication is available for purchase through NSU Press, and was supported by grants from the Lower Mississippi Delta Region Initiatives of the National Park Service, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, and the Louisiana Division of the Arts.

During the development and implementation of these basketry projects, participants suggested that an online basketry catalogue would be of benefit to weavers, tribal members, and others interested in Southeastern Indian basketry traditions. LRFP received funding from the Cane River National Heritage Area to place the Southeastern Indian basketry database online. The core of this catalogue is comprised of the Williamson Museum collections and two personal collections. Baskets from traditions other than Southeastern Indians were removed from the online catalogue, but can be added later. The online catalogue contains over 350 images as well as information about each basket. A 12-inch ruler was used to indicate scale, but exact measurements were not included in the online database; however, that information can be otained by contacting Dr. Hiram "Pete" Gregory.

Currently, we are working with the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport, Louisiana [LSEM], to add Southeastern Indian basketry collections housed there to the database. In 2007-2008, Annmarie Kmetz, a candidate in the Master of Heritage Resources program at NSU, worked with tribal weavers to identify, catalogue, and photograph the Chitimacha basketry collection at LSEM. Those baskets will be added the catalogue in 2009.

This project was informed through the counsel and assistance of tribal weavers, historians, and cultural specialists. Their insights into ancient practices and beliefs underscore the importance of basketry as a potent cultural symbol for contemporary Southeastern Indian people. -Dayna Bowker Lee

Supported by a grant from the Cane River National Heritage Area