April 2011 Artifact of the Month
Oblong Pomo Basket
Pomo, Central California
Materials: grasses, shell, quail feathers, string
This month's featured artifact is an oblong basket woven at the beginning of the 20th century by the Pomo tribe.
The Pomo, whose name means "village," are best known for their unique and exquisite baskets. They coil and twine plant fibers such as grasses, reeds, barks, and roots to create their baskets. They gather these materials in autumn, usually September and October, in order to weave during the winter. They give these baskets as gifts or burn them in honor of the deceased.
Pomo baskets are unique in their use of shell beads and feathers. The Pomo interweave feathers from various birds into the walls of their baskets as an elaborate decoration. Our basket has several black quail feathers along the outside. It also has white shell beads adorning it, especially around the lip where they are the most prominent. The Pomo also incorporate red and black geometric designs as they weave. Ours is embedded with a simple black design crisscrossing it.
The Pomo came into contact with Russian fur traders and Spanish missionaries in the 18th century. They successfully warded off any attempts at invasion and conquest until the Gold Rush of 1848 brought gold diggers and prospectors to California. These Anglo-Americans carried disease to the Pomo, which killed or weakened the majority of the population. Their numbers, which had held steady before foreign contact, dwindled.
The Pomo still live in California today but the survival of their basket weaving is threatened. Because of urban development and other human activity, it has become harder to find the necessary materials to fashion these baskets. This, along with the fact that many of the younger generation do not have the desire to learn the traditional techniques, means that basket weaving is on the decline.