A woven basket from the Arizona State Museum collection

Climate-controlled Woven Wonders

Lee Allen
5/14/11

If you were 11,000 year old survivor of the dry, dusty, Arizona desert, you’d appreciate being taken into a climate-controlled environment.

A comprehensive collection of more than 25,000 baskets, cordage, and other native American ‘woven wonders’ housed at Arizona State Museum are headed toward more comfortable quarters thanks to a $400,000 grant from the Save America’s Treasures federal preservation effort.

Says Mike Jacobs, ASM’s curator of archaeological collections: “We know of no other museum collection larger, more impressive, better documented, or more representative of southwestern cultures.” In addition to O’odham, Apache, and Seri basketry ranging from a 3½-foot-tall coiled olla to a willow Pomo basket the size of a lentil, the collection includes a tule fiber sandal from 9,000 BC --- one of the oldest shoes in the world.

“This grant recognizes the national importance of the collection and the fact that it faces imminent danger of deterioration caused by current inadequate environmental controls,” says the museum’s head preservationist, Dr. Nancy Odegaard. “All measures have been taken to ensure responsible stewardship; now the only step left is placing the objects into a renovated space.”

In answer to the ‘why should people care’ question, the curator of ethnological collections, Diane Dittemore, says: “Basketry, cordage, and matting are perhaps the oldest human crafts on earth. Basket weaving, an American Indian cultural art tradition and a source of pride for the maker, is a technology that cannot be mechanized. That basketry survives in our increasingly technical world is a testament to the skill and appreciation of cultural heritage possessed by practitioners of this ancient art and we want this prized and unparalleled collection to endure for future generations to enjoy.”

As a requirement of the Save America’s Treasures gift, the Museum must match the $400,000 grant to build the climate-controlled storeroom and an atmospheric controlled visible vault, similar to a previous grant which allowed climate-controlled display of part of the museum’s pottery collection, the largest of its kind in the world.

“Even though matching fundraising for the construction phase of the Woven Wonders project has just barely begun, we’re already off to a great start with over $10,000 in individual gift donations,” says Odegaard.

Target date for project completion is 2013.

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